Democrats seek investigation of anti-Dream Act group

The Maryland Democratic Party is asking state prosecutors to investigate what it says are "serious campaign finance violations" by a group that opposes the state's Dream Act.

The director of the group called the claims "bogus." Brad Botwin, who founded Help Save Maryland six years ago, described the challenge as "another violation of my First Amendment rights."

The Dream Act, if approved by voters next month, would extend in-state tuition breaks at the state's public colleges and universities to some illegal immigrants who have graduated from high school in Maryland, whose families have filed state income taxes, and who meet other requirements.

Help Save Maryland has aired radio ads saying the legislation would have "serious consequences for our state's budget and our children's future" and directing listeners to its website. There, the group has posted a seven-page document challenging elements of the legislation.

In a letter Monday to the state prosecutor and the state elections board, lawyers for the Maryland Democratic Party said the ad and document amount to political advocacy against the Dream Act, for which the group should have registered a ballot initiative committee. That step would enable voters to see where Help Save Maryland gets its money.

The party urged Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough Jr. and Jared DeMarinis, director of the campaign finance division of the state elections board, to "take appropriate action to prevent the further broadcast of advertising by Help Save Maryland in opposition to Question 4" until the group registers as a ballot initiative committee and includes a proper authority line in its advertising.

David Sloan, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said in a statement, "Marylanders deserve to know who is funding a group that is peddling lies and grossly misrepresenting the facts to influence the outcome of a ballot measure of critical importance to our state."

Botwin said Help Save Maryland is an educational and outreach organization that does not fall under the campaign finance rules the Democrats cite.

While Help Save Maryland's website urges viewers to "stop taxpayer-funded in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants," Botwin said neither the radio spots nor the website take a position on Question 4.

"I understand what this is," he said. "They're nervous. They're getting very nervous. Things are tightening up."

Also Monday, the pro-Dream Act coalition Educate Maryland Kids announced three new ads on cable television and said it would expand the airing of a radio spot from two stations to five.

The television spots feature Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown; Baltimore County businessman John Hawks, a longtime Republican; and a group that includes public school teachers, a Catholic priest and a student who is an illegal immigrant.

In each, the speakers say that a student who has studied for three years in a Maryland high school and whose family has paid taxes should be eligible for the in-state tuition breaks.

The coalition, which includes the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Maryland State Education Association, CASA de Maryland and the Service Employees International Union, said it would spend more than $1 million on advertising in the Baltimore and Washington markets before the Nov. 6 vote.

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