The Maryland State Board of Elections ruled Thursday that the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Anthony G. Brown can continue raising money during the coming legislative session even though Brown himself is prohibited by law from doing so.
The decision was immediately criticized by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, another Democratic candidate for governor, who said he expects that a court will decide the elections board misinterpreted a law that is “crystal clear.”
Maryland law prohibits statewide officeholders — including Gansler and Brown, the state’s lieutenant governor — from raising money during the 90-day session, which starts Jan. 8. Members of the state legislature also may not raise money during the session, which means that Gansler’s running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Pr. George’s), is subject to the ban as well.
There is no explicit prohibition that covers Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D), Brown’s pick for lieutenant governor. But Gansler argued that the law makes it clear that a candidate cannot raise money in a “coordinated” effort with another candidate subject to the ban.
“If you’re running for governor and lieutenant governor, by definition, you’re running in coordination with one another,” Gansler said. He stressed that he was speaking for himself and not in an official capacity as the state’s attorney general.
Gansler said he has no plans to file a lawsuit but suggested that another party with an interest in the matter could. The elections board’s ruling has the potential to affect several other tickets in next year’s contest for governor.
The fundraising ban, enacted in 1997, is intended to limit the ability of moneyed interests to influence legislation.
Gansler added that regardless of the legality of Ulman raising money, it creates ethical issues for a ticket that is “being driven by special interests and the status quo.”
In a “guidance” letter to candidates Thursday, the board said that even though voters elect the governor and lieutenant governor together, “Maryland campaign finance law clearly considers them separate candidates.”
“Each must pay a filing fee to run for office and each must clearly establish his or her own candidate committee as a prerequisite to filing a certificate of candidacy,” the board said.
Brown campaign manager Justin Schall said that with Thursday’s decision, Ulman plans to raise money during the session but will use a separate campaign account from the one maintained by Brown.
“Previously, we had stated that County Executive Ulman was going to follow the decision of the elections board,” Schall said. “They’ve made a determination, and the county executive will abide by the determination very carefully.”
Typically, attorneys from Gansler’s office review guidance letters distributed by the elections board. Earlier this month, Gansler announced that his office would not be involved on this issue given that it directly affects his race for governor.
Gansler offered the elections board the names of four private lawyers to consult for guidance instead.
Jared DeMarinis, the director of the board’s candidacy and campaign finance division, said Thursday that none of the four lawyers was available. The board instead consulted the Maryland state prosecutor, whose jurisdiction includes election law violations, DeMarinis said.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said that his office had reviewed the memo but did not offer legal guidance on the section involving fundraising during session by members of the same gubernatorial ticket.
Common Cause Maryland was also critical of the elections board Thursday.
“This guidance allows some elected officials to skirt critical ethics reforms intended to limit the corrupting influence of fundraising during the 90-day legislative session,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the organization’s executive director.