CLEVELAND — When conservative activist David Bossie registered to vote for the first time, he wanted to support Ronald Reagan, but wasn't sure which political party the iconic politician represented.
An elections clerk tossed the teenager a newspaper and told him to "figure it out."
Bossie figured it out.
Now head of Washington-based Citizens United — the group at the center of the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened new floodgates for money to flow into elections — Bossie is taking a noticeably more active role in Maryland politics.
The 50-year-old Montgomery County man was elected in May to represent Maryland on the Republican National Committee, unseating veteran committeeman Louis Pope. He's chairing the state's delegation to the Republican National Convention that opened here Monday, fundraising for GOP candidates and using his thick Rolodex to lure speakers to address the state's delegates.
"He's one of the most important strategic entrepreneurs in the conservative movement in the entire country," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Baltimore Sun. "He really, on a national level, has a network and an impact on the right that's very significant."
Republicans have gathered at Quicken Loans Arena to nominate Donald Trump as their presidential candidate. The convention follows a bruising primary that left the party deeply divided about the bombastic New York businessman who will carry the GOP flag into the November election against Hillary Clinton.
That rift was on clear display Monday as anti-Trump forces made a last-ditch effort to change the convention rules to allow them to vote for someone other than Trump.
Though the effort to "unbind" the delegates was always a long shot, the convention floor devolved briefly into a chaotic shouting match as party leaders quickly shut the dissenters down with a more traditional set of rules.
Bossie, a consummate inside player who declined to comment for this article, has known Trump for years. The two met outside of politics: Bossie, whose son required multiple brain surgeries at an early age, was raising money for children's medical care; Trump agreed to donate.
Maryland is home to many national Republican leaders and deep-pocketed donors who are shaping the party in Washington. But the community has largely eschewed an active role in the state, where Democrats outnumber GOP voters by better than 2-1, and where the party was out of power in Annapolis for nearly a decade until Gov. Larry Hogan won in 2014.
But Bossie, who was born in Boston and now lives in the community of Ashton, isn't writing the state off.
He was one of the first high-profile Republicans anywhere to endorse Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga's campaign for Maryland's open Senate seat this year in a primary that featured 13 other GOP candidates.
And he has used his connections in Washington, including with party figures such as Gingrich and Trump, to help Szeliga raise money in her uphill fight against Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic nominee.
"He's a huge asset for Maryland," Szeliga said in an interview. "That he's willing to put his efforts and resources and his expertise into Maryland is really wonderful."
As successful as Bossie has been in Republican politics, he is reviled by Democrats.
Bossie was the chief investigator for the House Oversight Committee under Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who pounced on the multiple controversies that flowed from the Clinton White House, such as the Whitewater real estate imbroglio and questions about Chinese-based political donations made to national Democrats.
Six years ago, his group was at the center of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Bossie's group had wanted to air a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign — a move that was banned by the 2002 campaign finance law commonly known as McCain-Feingold.
A split Supreme Court ultimately ruled that corporations, labor unions and other nonprofits are permitted under the Constitution to spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for a candidate.
The decision gave rise to the so-called super PACs, which have poured hundreds of millions of dollars of new money into presidential and congressional races.
And Democrats from President Barack Obama down have been working to undermine the decision ever since.
Several Democrats in Maryland have not only noticed Bossie's stepped-up involvement but have criticized Szeliga directly for holding fundraisers with him.
Their calculation is clear: While the campaign finance changes may be popular with some conservatives, they are widely opposed in mostly Democratic states such as Maryland.
"State Republicans are scrambling to raise money for down-ballot candidates because the top of the ticket is toxic and divisive," Maryland Democratic Party Chairman D. Bruce Poole said. "Turning to Citizens United to raise money in Maryland signals that Maryland Republicans are looking for a financial life raft to stay afloat as we head into November."
Bossie's victory over Pope was his most overt display of engagement in state politics so far. Several Republicans said his ability to bring in top Republican speakers to central committee fundraising dinners throughout the state was key to his success in that election.
A longtime volunteer firefighter, Bossie briefly attended Towson University but dropped out to pursue politics. By 1988, four years after he studied a newspaper to determine Reagan's political affiliation, he was the youth director of Sen. Bob Dole's 1988 presidential campaign.