Teachers union cries foul, says Gansler campaign gave out misleading literature


Left, the union brochure. Right, the one distributed by Doug Gansler's campaign. (courtesy of Maryland State Education Association)

The teacher’s union in Montgomery County filed suit Tuesday against the Democratic gubernatorial campaign of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, seeking unsuccessfully to block its election-day distribution of what the union called deceitful literature at the polls.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge declined to issue a restraining order but agreed to hold a hearing on the merits of the case at a later date.

The item in question is a flat brochure shaped like an apple and emblazoned with a list of recommended candidates, including Gansler for governor. The Maryland State Education Association, an umbrella organization that includes the Montgomery teachers, has endorsed Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown.

In the hastily filed lawsuit, the Montgomery County Education Association said Gansler’s brochure too closely mimics the union’s apple-shaped “teacher recommended” campaign literature, which has been trademarked since 2009. The “apple ballot” garners much attention in schools-focused Montgomery County, and candidates believe that voters give great weight to teachers union endorsements.

“They have a trademark on apples? They don’t,” Gansler said in an interview Tuesday morning after voting at Pyle Middle School in Bethesda.

Gansler said that his campaign has done nothing wrong, and he accused leaders of the teachers association of being “in cahoots with the establishment.” He also accused them of throwing away some of his campaign signs, an allegation the union vehemently denied.

“To the extent that anyone is doing anything untoward, it’s the teachers union,” Gansler said. “We have the support of teachers across the state.”

Adam Mendelson, a spokesman for the statewide association, said it received reports of the literature showing up in at least a half-dozen polling places in Montgomery County. A photo of the literature provided to The Washington Post includes an authority line identifying Gansler’s campaign as having produced the brochure.

Mendelson said his organization understood it is rare for a judge to issue a restraining order in the midst of voting and said that Gansler’s lawyer had argued the importance of free speech.

“Now it’s in the hands of voters to judge the blatant act to deceive and mislead them,” Mendelson said.

The statewide association said it sent Gansler’s campaign a letter on Monday warning of the alleged trademark violation.

“Any effort on the part of the Gansler campaign to copy or imitate the apple and the phrase ‘Teacher Recommend’ constitutes a willful attempt to confuse or deceive Maryland citizens regarding the recommendations of … teachers,” said the letter, signed by David E. Helfman, the group’s executive director.

Brown and Gansler are competing in a Democratic primary that also includes Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery). Recent polling has shown Brown with a commanding lead.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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