The state attorney general's office has said that Sen. Ulysses Currie may not use campaign funds to pay for his legal defense in a federal investigation if the probe "relates to his conduct in office" - as it appears to do.
Last month, the Prince George's County Democrat asked the State Board of Elections whether he could use campaign funds to pay his attorneys in connection with the federal investigation into his previously undisclosed consulting work for a Lanham-based grocery chain.
Jared DeMarinis, director of the board's campaign finance division, asked the attorney general's office for advice. In a letter on Friday, Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Davis reaffirmed a 1993 opinion by then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. that campaign funds may only be used to defend criminal charges related to "electoral activities," such as campaigning for office.
Davis concluded that because "no details have been provided about the scope and nature of the federal investigation for which Currie has retained counsel," it was impossible to determine whether the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee chairman could use his campaign treasury - which contained about $360,000 as of February - to pay his legal bills.
But Davis cautioned that campaign funds "may not be used for the personal benefit of the candidate or for expenses related to his or her duties as an officeholder."
The attorney general's interpretation of state law is based on the principle that donors intend for their campaign contributions to be used solely to elect candidates. Maryland law is stricter in this regard than is federal law, which allows candidates to use campaign funds to defend themselves against charges related to their duties as officeholders.
Currie referred questions to his lawyers yesterday. One of them, William H. Murphy Jr., declined to comment, and the other, Dale Kelberman, did not return a phone message.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office also declined again yesterday to discuss details of their investigation, but it appears to center on Currie's work in recent years for Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, a regional grocery chain based in Lanham. According to the grocery store chain's parent company, Supervalu Inc., Currie has been an "outside consultant" for the 64-store Shoppers chain.