GOP club accused of illegal fundraising

Carroll County

Maryland Votes 2006

November 03, 2006|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,sun reporter

Two officers of the Carroll County Republican Club could face hefty fines and possible jail time after being charged yesterday with violating state election laws for failing to register as a political action committee, according to a lawsuit filed by the state prosecutor's office.

The club's president, Scott Hollenbeck, 40, of Westminster, and treasurer, Suzanne Primoff, 56, of Woodbine and Loxahatchee, Fla. were charged with illegally raising and spending campaign funds as an unregistered political action committee, the prosecutor said.

They also were charged with distributing ads supporting candidates without including the required authorization line from those candidates. The offenses are punishable by up to two years in jail and $26,000 fines, according to court documents.

"When in doubt, we always believe it's best to err on the side of complete disclosure," said Jared DeMarinis, director of the state division of campaign finance, who forwarded the case to the state prosecutor. "When you register with the state, you're allowed to engage in campaign finance."

Political observers say the charges against the club and its officers could negatively affect Michael D. Zimmer, a conservative GOP candidate for county commissioner who was supported in the ads that ran before the September primary.

In recent weeks, some GOP faithful have split the party by supporting Democrat Dennis E. Beard over Zimmer for a seat on the three-member board of commissioners. A Democrat has not been elected as a Carroll County commissioner in more than a dozen years.

"People have gotten tired of all this negativity of the extremists," said Tony Roman, an adjunct political science professor at Carroll Community College. "The Democratic Party is getting a boost out of this. If Beard gets elected, it gives them sort of a basis to start from."

Primoff and Hollenbeck have been outspoken critics of the current board of commissioners, all GOP moderates.

Ed Primoff, a club member married to Suzanne Primoff, defended the Republican club's actions yesterday. If the club had agreed to register as a PAC, the state prosecutor would have dropped charges last week, Ed Primoff said. He said the club rejected that offer.

"Everything we did was reviewed by competent legal counsel, and they assured us that we were in compliance with all the Maryland election laws," Primoff said. "This club is fighting corruption and fighting for ideologies that we believe in."

Hollenbeck, a former member of the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, has not returned repeated phone calls.

Between Aug. 14 and Sept. 6, the Carroll County Republican Club collected money and paid for a series of ads that maligned the incumbent commissioners and endorsed Zimmer on a conservative slate of candidates.

The ads ran in local publications just days before the primary, giving the incumbents little time to respond to the allegations, which included abuse of taxpayer funds, creation of nonessential jobs, increased taxes and limited access to public records.

Zimmer called the ads "trivial" and denied any connection to the club.

"I have nothing to do with them, and they have nothing to do with me," Zimmer said. "I think their ads hurt me."

Suzanne Primoff, a former member of the county ethics board who was dismissed from the position, contributed $350 to Zimmer's campaign just before the primary Aug. 31, according to campaign finance reports.

In a marked contrast to the unofficial club, another group of Republicans recently registered as a political action committee to oppose Zimmer, control residential growth and promote economic development.

The Citizens for Carroll County Political Action Committee has run ads in local publications and put up four billboards around the county endorsing Beard and incumbents Julia W. Gouge and Dean L. Minnich.

The group registered as a PAC Oct. 16 but was told not to file a finance report with the state until Nov. 28, according to Pat Rockinberg, the PAC's treasurer.laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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