Md. officials violated provision of election law

October 26, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Several state elected officials - including two statewide officeholders - violated an obscure provision of election law that required them to file campaign finance reports more frequently this year because they gave money to Baltimore City candidates.

The review of state records by The Sun found that Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Comptroller Peter Franchot, along with a half-dozen members of the General Assembly, did not fulfil the filing requirement. But several of the officials vowed to do so after being contacted yesterday by the newspaper.

State law allows candidates who are not running in a given year to file their campaign finance reports less frequently. If, however, those candidates transfer money to another campaign that is actively running an election, the more stringent requirements apply.

Campaign finance reporting regulations are in place to ensure the public can keep track of who is funding which candidates. The donations were reported as receipts by the candidates who received them, but not as expenditures by those who made them.

Gansler, for instance, who was not running for election this year, cut a $1,000 check to City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who was running for mayor in Baltimore's Sept. 11 primary election. Because he made the donation, Gansler was required to file two additional campaign finance reports with the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Neither was submitted.

Officials in Gansler's office said they are looking into the issue. State elections officials said Gansler filed a subsequent report due today.

Meanwhile, Franchot made a $1,000 contribution to Mayor Sheila Dixon, who defeated Mitchell. He also contributed $1,000 to a slate committee used to support City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, as well as $1,000 to her main challenger, Michael Sarbanes.

A state elections official confirmed that Franchot filed reports in mid-September - after the deadline, but before The Sun contacted his campaign - but that a technical problem has prevented the state from posting the results of those reports on its Web site.

Franchot's campaign paid about $360 in fines for filing the reports late, the official said.

"We did not know that we needed to report," said Tim Daly, Franchot's campaign manager. "Once we became aware that those reports needed to be filed, we filed them."

Several officials said they were unaware that making a contribution constituted being involved in a campaign - confusion that might have been compounded by a recent change in state law on the issue.

Previously, state candidates who did not intend to engage in city elections were required to file an affidavit. Last year, the General Assembly changed the law, and campaigns now receive a letter from the Board of Elections asking which election cycles they will take part in.

If a statewide campaign does not indicate it would take part in a city election, for instance, it would not receive reminders from election officials about filing deadlines. But if they make a donation - regardless of size - they are considered involved in the election and must submit each report required for the rest of the year.

"If you give a dime, you're in it," said Jared DeMarinis, director of the State Board of Elections' Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division.

All city candidates this year - including Dixon, Rawlings-Blake and Sarbanes - as well as those campaigns that donated to them will be required to file a pre-general election campaign finance report by today that should be available for public review next week. The reports show not only how much money was raised, but who gave it and how it was spent.

Dixon, who won the Democratic primary with 63 percent of the vote last month, is still actively fundraising. The mayor has scheduled a cocktail reception Thursday at the Harborview Marina and Yacht Club. Tickets range from $250 to $1,000. Dixon faces Republican Elbert R. Henderson in the Nov. 6 general election.

Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat and the House speaker pro tem, cut a $1,000 check to Rawlings-Blake in early August. Her campaign treasurer, Arnold Jablon, echoed others by saying he was not aware that making a contribution constituted being actively involved in a campaign.

Jablon said he would file the required reports soon.

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