There has been a worthwhile and important public discussion about the Maryland State Board of Elections’ decision in December regarding fundraising by elected state and county officials during the 90-day regular session of the Maryland General Assembly. The board ruled that, although state law prohibits members of the legislature and other statewide elected officials from raising money during the session, the prohibition does not extend to running mates who are not legislators or statewide elected officials. Although this decision is in line with the strict letter of the law, unfortunately, it does little to engender public confidence in our elections and elected officials.
My running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, and I have not raised money during the legislative session that opened Jan. 8, nor will we. We never intended to. The board gave Ulman the green light to raise money. But just because something is lawful doesn’t mean that it’s right. Actions speak louder than words. Before the session began, contribution links were removed from the AnthonyBrown.com and KenUlman.com Web sites. Since then, neither campaign has solicited or received campaign contributions.
The law should be changed to make sure the letter matches the spirit of the law and to prevent this issue from recurring. Under a Brown-Ulman administration, we will pass legislation to extend the ban on session fundraising to running mates of state legislators and statewide elected officials who are running for governor or lieutenant governor.
I recognize the Board of Elections’ important role in administering and interpreting the laws that govern elections and campaign finance in our state. The board’s decision may also affect two candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination: Harford County Executive David Craig, whose running mate is a state delegate, and Del. Ron George (Anne Arundel), assuming he picks a running mate who is not in the legislature.
The purpose of the campaign finance laws is, in large part, to prevent fundraising from influencing governance decisions in Annapolis, real and perceived. This is its spirit and intent, regardless of any ambiguity in the letter of the law. This is a goal that I have lived by as a candidate since my first campaign in 1997 and that I have supported as an elected official. The law was designed to ensure that elected officials who are entrusted to do the people’s work do just that.
The law is also intended to assure voters that their elected officials are motivated by the public interest and not by political contributions. For the same reasons, we have established limits on campaign contributions and, more recently, required campaigns to disclose their contributors’ occupations and employers.
The worthwhile debate we have had over the past few weeks has showed that the law is not perfect, which is why we need to change it. It shouldn’t be left to the courts or the elections board or a voluntary decision of the candidates. The General Assembly needs to be part of the solution. Such a reform measure should apply to any and all gubernatorial tickets that have held themselves out to the public, regardless of whether the ticket has formally filed with the Board of Elections.
I have and will continue to support efforts in Maryland to improve public confidence in our elections and elected officials, and to make our elections laws more transparent and effective.
Anthony G. Brown, Annapolis
The writer, a Democrat, is Maryland’s lieutenant
governor and a candidate for governor.