Maryland elections board members question decision on fundraising ban in governor’s race

Maryland State Board of Elections members on Thursday raised questions about the staff’s issuance of a controversial ruling that allows the gubernatorial ticket of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown to raise campaign funds while sidelining his opponent, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, during the annual legislative session.

The board’s staff ruled in December that Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D), could solicit campaign donations during the 90-day session even though Brown (D) cannot. That’s because the law prohibits statewide officeholders, including Brown and Gansler, from raising campaign funds during the session. The fundraising ban also applies to members of the state legislature, including Gansler’s running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s).

Jared DeMarinis, director of the state election board’s division of candidacy and campaign finance, told the board the decision was made after his office reviewed state election law and previous attorney general rulings, and consulted with the Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor.

A lawsuit has been filed by Gansler’s supporters seeking to prevent Ulman from raising money during the General Assembly’s annual session. The lawsuit argues that although Ulman does not hold a statewide office, he should not be permitted to raise money because he is acting “in coordination” with Brown and so is also covered by the ban.

During a meeting of the state elections board Thursday, vice chairman David J. McManus, Jr., who is a Republican, and Rachel T. Guckian, a Democrat, both expressed concern about the Dec. 19 decision, which affected other campaigns as well. McManus and Guckian suggested that the professional staff should have given board members more advance notice that the directive was coming, especially after initial efforts to obtain outside legal advice were unsuccessful.

“Is there some reason why this wasn’t brought up at the meeting while we were all here? From my perspective, we all got blindsided,” McGuckian said. She said that she and other board members received notice of the decision shortly before the ruling was made public.

McManus urged the staff to consult with the board in the future.

“This was an unusual situation,” McManus said. “We could have helped. We have three election lawyers on the board, and we’re free, and we could have helped craft this .... That would have, I think, made the product more authoritative and it would saved you and the others all some grief.”

But DeMarinis said he and other staff had followed previous procedures for issuing directives that interpret the state’s election laws.

“We’ve never once come to the board and sought approval prior to issuing the guidance or issuing the summary,” DeMarinis said.

DeMarinis said the directive initially arose out of inquiries from the press last summer and from the Brown campaign during the fall.

DeMarinis also said the board’s staff sought outside legal counsel for assistance in the ruling amid concerns that the state attorney general’s staff might be unable to help interpret the law because, with Gansler in the running this year, the office would be snared in a conflict of interest. But staff members also said they could not find outside counsel.

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