Democrat accuses Larry Hogan of profiting from Change Maryland purchase

A senior Democratic lawmaker Thursday accused Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan of profiting at the public’s expense from his campaign’s purchase of nearly $80,000 in assets from a watchdog group that Hogan ran before launching his bid.

A spokesman for Hogan dismissed the allegations by Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) as “absurd” and said it was the latest attempt by allies of the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, to divert attention from economic issues.

The dispute centers on the Hogan campaign’s decision to purchase the Facebook page, mailing list and other assets of Change Maryland, a group Hogan founded in 2011 to monitor the activities of the current Democratic administration and propose alternative policy. According to the Hogan campaign, an independent consultant established the fair-market value of the assets at $79,720.

Change Maryland was set up as a limited liability company with Hogan as the sole owner. As a result, Davis, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, alleged Thursday that the nearly $80,000 in campaign funds used for the purchase were “pocketed” personally by Hogan.

Because Hogan is participating in the state’s public financing system — and has received nearly $3 million in public funds to date — Davis charged that Hogan had taken taxpayer money.

Hogan’s team pushed back hard on the notion that any public funds were used for the purchase, however, noting that Hogan also raised money from private sources during the primary. “Anthony Brown’s team has gone from distortions to outright lies,” said Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky.

Dubitsky said Hogan’s candidacy “poses an existential threat to the party bosses who are clearly terrified of losing their eight-year monopoly on power. Having taxed, spent and borrowed the economy into a tailspin, all the Brown campaign can do is lie about his opponent, distort the truth and hope the people of Maryland won’t notice.”

Davis, meanwhile, called on Hogan to donate the $80,000 in question to charity and said he would introduce legislation next year “to prevent publicly financed candidates from making a profit on the side from their campaigns by closing the Hogan loophole.”

“Even if this behavior is legal, it’s certainly unethical,” Davis said.

Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the Maryland State Elections Board, did not comment directly on the Change Maryland purchase but said campaigns are allowed to buy assets from companies as long as they do so at fair-market value.

The elections board is examining a complaint filed by the Maryland Democratic Party that alleges that Hogan illegally used Change Maryland to promote his upcoming campaign. Hogan has characterized that complaint as politically motivated.

The board previously dismissed two similar complaints, including one by two of Hogan’s Republican primary rivals. The Democrats contend that their filing contains specific allegations that were not part of the previous complaints.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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