Watchdog director resigns over finance complaint

December 02, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

The Maryland director for Common Cause, a national government watchdog group, said she resigned this week amid a dispute over whether she should pursue a campaign finance complaint against an allied group.

But a spokeswoman for the national organization said yesterday that it has never seen any documentation for the complaint the former state director, Bobbie Walton, made against Progressive Maryland this week.

The complaint - and a news release highlighting Common Cause's role in pursuing it - were the "renegade actions of a former employee," said the spokeswoman, Mary Boyle.

Common Cause and Progressive Maryland both push for campaign finance reform and public financing of campaigns, and have worked closely together in the past.

Progressive Maryland Deputy Director Sean Dobson said in an e-mail yesterday that the organization took pains to make sure its election activities were legal.

"Progressive Maryland scrupulously complies with the law," Dobson said.

"Before the election, we got written confirmation from the State Board of Elections that our electoral program is perfectly lawful."

Boyle said Common Cause's national office received copies of correspondence between Progressive Maryland and the Board of Elections yesterday that contradicts some of Walton's accusations.

"It appears that certainly at least part of this complaint was completely baseless," Boyle said.

Walton accuses Progressive Maryland of paying for a mailing supporting Tom Hucker - the group's former executive director - in his successful bid for the House of Delegates from its general funds, not its political action committee.

She also said the group failed to account for political fundraising expenses that violated other state and federal laws.

She said she heard complaints about some of the group's activities last summer.

With the blessing of her state board, she investigated and concluded that they had merit, Walton said.

When she discussed the matter with Common Cause's national organization on Wednesday, though, she said she was told to drop the matter.

She said she was told "Progressive Maryland is our coalition partner, and you have better things you should be doing with your time."

She said she resigned immediately.

However, on Thursday, Walton sent a letter to State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh requesting an investigation.

Later in the day, Walton issued a news release identifying herself as director of Common Cause Maryland and saying the complaint had been filed by the organization.

Boyle said that's not true.

"We don't stand by it," she said of the complaint.

"We don't file complaints hastily, and to this moment, we have not seen anything as to the specifics as to what is being alleged."

Christopher D. Carroll, the president of the Common Cause Maryland board, said he and other board members had discussed the matter with Walton extensively.

He said he supports both in his capacity as president.

Boyle would not comment on the details of Walton's resignation, saying it is a personnel matter.

She said, however, that while Common Cause does investigate individual campaign finance complaints, that's not the organization's primary focus.

"We're not about being the campaign finance police," she said. "We certainly care about this stuff but are more focused on reforming and addressing powerful institutions."

Walton already has another job. She will be returning to the Montgomery County Council, where she was an aide before going to Common Cause, as chief of staff to Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg.

She said she has also returned to the Common Cause Maryland board and was answering the phone at the group's Annapolis office yesterday in that capacity.

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