They have bickered over their backgrounds, their political allegiances and who is the bigger “insider.” Now, the two candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s most competitive congressional contest this year are battling over who is the most -- and least -- transparent.
The latest shot came this week from businessman John Delaney who pointed out that his opponent, State Sen. Rob Garagiola, failed to note his income as a lobbyist from 2001-2003 on annual state financial disclosure forms. Delaney's camp cast the omission as part of a broader pattern in which aides note that Garagiola has not exactly called attention to his past work as a federal lobbyist.
"Rob Garagiola is a career politician who thinks he is above the law," campaign manager Max Cummings said in a statement. "As an attorney, he should have known that he was in violation but instead he chose to lie. As an elected official, voters expect higher moral standards."
Was the wording of the form unclear, as Garagiola's campaign first suggested?
"I or a member of my immediate family received a salary or was sole or partial owner of a business entity from which earned income was received, during the reporting period," the form reads. Garagiola checked 'no,' even though he had collected a salary from the law firm Greenberg Traurig, because he was not a sole or partial owner of the business.
Michael Lord, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said separate instructions that accompany the form could be clearer. Without knowing which candidates were involved in the dispute, he said the office would advise any candidate that they must disclose income, regardless of whether or not they own the business from which the money is received.
"Looking at the instructions, I think we perhaps need to make them clearer, to change that word '[and]' to 'or,' which would be consistent with how we've interpreted it and we would advise filers" to interpret it, he said. "We would tell them that it's 'either/or.'"
If Garagiola had reviewed the detailed page on salary that he would have filled out if he had checked 'yes' instead of 'no' on the summary page, it would have been clear he was supposed to disclose his Greenberg income.
In a statement, Garagiola campaign manager Sean Rankin said the Ethics Commission never noted a problem with the forms and said that if the commission requests an amendment Garagiola will file one.
"But we do find it ironic that John Delaney, who still has not released his personal financial disclosure form or his taxes, raised such a charge," the statement read. "Maybe Delaney should follow his own advice and stop hiding his financial statements and taxes."
Garagiola released a decade's worth of income tax returns to reporters in January and challenged Delaney and other candidates to do the same. At first, Delaney argued that Garagiola should champion a law in Annapolis requiring candidates to release their tax forms. Then he released a summary of his tax records -- but not the actual returns -- to The Washington Post.
Garagiola's tax records include the income from Greenberg.
Garagiola has also filed a personal financial disclosure form required from congressional candidates by the Clerk of the House of Representatives listing his assets. Under a quirk in the disclosure rules, Delaney will not be required to make that form public until 30 days before the April 3 primary election because he did not officially declare his candidacy until after the start of this year.
Garagiola's firm also was required to disclose his lobbying activities, including his clients, in forms filed with the House and Senate. Those annual disclosures were filed.
The political narrative Garagiola hopes to weave about Delaney is that he is a rich, Potomac banker who is willing to buy the seat -- a storyline Delaney did little to undercut by not fundraising in the final quarter of last year, instead floating his campaign with $118,000 of his own money.
Delaney, meanwhile, hopes to cast Garagiola as the consummate insider who is hiding his past as a lobbyist on campaign biographies. On that front, Garagiola is not helped by suspicion that the 6th District was essentially drawn for him by a powerful ally, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.