November 12, 2013

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler on Tuesday suggested that his fellow Democratic candidates for governor join him in trying to keep outside organizations from spending money to influence next year’s election.

Gansler proposed that he and his two rivals sign a “pledge” that would discourage independent entities from spending money on television, radio or online advertising that names any of the candidates, or on direct mail that does that. If such spending occurred, the candidate who benefited would have to pay 50 percent of the cost to a charity chosen by the other contenders.

Gansler’s proposal came on the same day that his leading rival, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), collected his latest endorsement from a labor organization with a history of putting both money and manpower behind its preferred candidates.

“We’re here this morning because Anthony Brown supports hardworking, middle-class families like ours,” Patrick Moran, president of AFSCME Maryland Council 3, the state’s largest state employees union, said at a news conference in Baltimore.

Brown later told reporters that he would “give some thought” to Gansler’s proposal but that his campaign was focused on building grass-roots support and making the best use of the resources it has raised.

Others suggested that Gansler appeared to be trying to silence some of the groups whose endorsements he had sought but lost to Brown.

“Whether intentional or not, the pledge would shut out the very voices we’ve worked so hard to get involved in the political process,” said Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of political and legislative affairs for the Maryland State Education Association.

His group, which claims 70,000 teachers and support staff as members, bought online ads for several days after its decision last month to endorse Brown.

“We’ve already made independent expenditures in this election cycle,” Johnson said.

Gansler spokesman Bob Wheelock said that Gansler’s proposal and Tuesday’s endorsement of Brown by AFSCME — which represents 25,000 state workers and higher-education employees — were unrelated, despite the timing of the two developments.

“This has nothing to do with the endorsements,” Wheelock said. “It has to do with transparency and keeping the outside interests on the outside.”

In a statement, Gansler said the pledge was consistent with his advocacy of campaign finance reform.

“It is easy to talk about reform,” Gansler said. “The test is: Are you willing to do something to keep outside money out of Maryland? The Candidates Pledge is a chance to do just that. It is a chance not to talk, but to act.”

As proposed by Gansler, the pledge would take effect only if all three Democratic candidates agreed to abide by it in advance of the June primary.

The campaign of Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Gansler said the pledge he proposed is similar to one that was in place in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts.

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