As he sought to work his way into politics, Fosselman took to hosting campaign fundraisers and donating money to county and state officials. More recently, he has been a strong voice for Kensington’s redevelopment and a prominent Montgomery County supporter of the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. And last week, Fosselman announced that he would run for a fourth term as mayor.
His emergence as a player in Maryland politics has not been without bumps along the way. Some town residents have raised questions about the ethics of some of his actions as mayor, particularly on development matters.
And early in his mayoral career, The Washington Post has recently learned, Fosselman was improperly reimbursed by the town for campaign contributions to fellow politicians.
Beginning a little more than a year into his first term, Fosselman made small donations to 13 political campaigns and sought town reimbursements for the contributions. The practice continued for 10 months, until the middle of 2008. Over that time, he donated more than $1,100 to fundraisers in Maryland and had almost all of it reimbursed, according to interviews and town records.
Maryland law, like federal law, prohibits contributions on behalf of another person or entity.
In a statement, Fosselman, who since last year also has been Maryland’s deputy secretary of state, said he was serving as Kensington’s “public relations ambassador” at the time of the contributions in question. “I was carrying the water for the Town,” he said in a separate e-mail.
According to town records, Fosselman stopped the practice in June 2008. He said in a statement that “it was brought to [his] attention that being reimbursed for attending political events was probably not considered the best practice.”
Fosselman said he met with the town attorney and town council and offered to repay the money. The town council declined because it believed the expenditures were “marketing and outreach efforts,” Fosselman said in the statement. In a separate e-mail, Town Attorney Suellen M. Ferguson declined to comment on the town’s handling of the reimbursements.
The early misstep in campaign finance was not the only time that Fosselman’s actions during his tenure as mayor have raised eyebrows in the town of about 2,200 people.
Early in his first term, Fosselman and other town officials lobbied for a state bill that would allow for more bars in Kensington. Shortly after the bill was passed, he and his domestic partner, Duane Rollins, opened a bar.
Asked to comment on his role in the alcohol bill and on his decision to open a bar, Fosselman said in an e-mail that expanding alcohol sales in Kensington was one of his campaign promises prior to becoming mayor. He added that the legislation was supported by the town council, benefited all the town’s businesses and was “long overdue.”
This year, The Post reported that Fosselman, while pushing for a controversial plan to bring more business to the town, invested in land that would probably increase in value when redevelopment begins. He also failed to properly disclose some of these investments.
Fosselman said his support for the plan predated the purchases of the properties. He said the transactions did not violate the town’s conflict-of-interest laws.
Now, some of the recipients of the campaign contributions for which Fosselman was reimbursed are expressing concerns. Former delegate Saqib Ali, who ran unsuccessfully this year for a seat on the county school board, described the contributions, including the $75 he received in the delegate race, as “very troubling.” Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who received $35, added that “coming to a fundraiser is not marketing.”
From 2006 to 2012, no elected official in 18 other Washington area municipalities contacted by The Post had filed reimbursement requests for campaign contributions, according to a review of reimbursement records obtained through public records requests.
“There is no way you can be reimbursed for a political contribution,” said E. Mark Braden, a former chief counsel of the Republican National Committee and an election law specialist. “Absolutely zip. Zero. By a town? Absolutely no way.”
But Fosselman’s supporters, including current and past town council members, staunchly defend his actions as mayor.
“He has done nothing wrong,” former town council member Sharon Scott, who signed off on some of the reimbursements, said in a telephone interview. “He has done everything great for the town.”
The contributions occurred as discussions about the redevelopment proposal revved up. According to town records, two of the 13 contributions were given to officials with votes on the proposal: Montgomery County Council members George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) and Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County), who represented Kensington at the time.
In February 2008, Fosselman spent $34 to buy lunch for Ervin, according to town records. Fosselman and Ervin discussed the proposal, according to town records. Five days after the lunch, Fosselman gave Ervin a $125 contribution, according to the records. Fosselman was subsequently reimbursed for the $125 contribution.
Both Ervin and Leventhal said the contributions had no bearing on their eventual decisions to support an amended version of the proposal supported by Fosselman. Last month, the County Council voted 8 to 1 to move forward with the plan.
Fosselman, 44, first ventured into state politics in July 2002, when he ran unsuccessfully for state delegate. In 2006, he became Kensington’s mayor — a part-time job with limited day-to-day duties. Fosselman started attending the campaign events as the mayor and became a more prominent figure in local political circles, county and state officials said.
After The Post recently began asking questions about the reimbursements, Fosselman sent supporters an e-mail that was obtained by The Post. “I have always served with the Town’s best interests at heart and mind,” he wrote. “This too shall pass.”
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.