Md. county candidate seeks identity of rival's funds source

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

A candidate for Prince George's County executive has introduced state legislation to close what she said was a campaign finance "loophole" that allowed a rival candidate to legally receive more than $200,000 in campaign funds without immediately disclosing the source of the money.

The campaign of former state delegate Rushern L. Baker III received $206,000 on Jan. 13 from a slate -- a group of candidates raising money collectively -- called County 1 Now. The slate had been established about a week before, and because it was so new, disclosure of its donors was not required in last month's campaign finance filing, a state election official said. The next finance filing is in August. Baker is running in the Democratic primary on Sept. 14.

On Wednesday, Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's), who is also running for county executive, introduced a bill co-sponsored by 14 other delegates that would address the loophole, which she said Baker's campaign was "exploiting."

"It doesn't matter what the source [of funding] is, just tell us," Levi said. "I think the public has a right to know who is trying to influence campaigns in Prince George's County, and $206,000 is a lot of influence."

The Washington Post questioned Baker campaign spokesman James Adams last month about the source of the slate's funding. At the time, Adams said he would work on gathering the information, but could not get it immediately because both Baker and the campaign treasurer were on vacation.

"There's no secret," Adams said at the time. "There are going to be no secrets about anything in our campaign."

On Thursday, however, Adams said he "misspoke" in January, and that he did not know when the donors would be made public. He said the names would be released "in due time, just as every other campaign must release the same information. I don't have a time frame for its release."

Adams declined to respond to Levi or comment on her legislation and added that Baker had no comment on the issue.

Del. Tawanna P. Gaines (D-Prince George's), a member of the slate, could not be reached for comment. Requests for comment from the slate's treasurer, Thomas Felder, and chairman, Kenneth Johnson, were not immediately returned Thursday.

Another slate member, Del. Barbara A. Frush (D-Prince George's), said the slate had multiple donors, including members of the development and labor communities, but declined to name any of them.

Although County 1 Now received money before the last campaign finance reporting deadline of Jan. 20, its donors were not required to be disclosed then. That's because the slate was formed Jan. 5, after notices were sent out by the state reminding campaign committees of the upcoming filing deadline. Any committee or slate formed after the notices were distributed was not required to file a finance report until the next deadline in August.

Levi's proposal would mandate that slates transferring more than $6,000 to members file a finance report during the same reporting period.

The most an individual can legally give to a candidate or a slate at one time in Maryland is $4,000; the election-cycle total is $10,000. Slates are allowed to make unlimited transfers of money to their members.

It's possible, however, that a wealthy individual could have legally provided the entire $206,000. In Maryland, business entities known as limited liability companies and limited liability partnerships can each give the $4,000 maximum to a campaign or slate, even if all the businesses are owned by the same person.

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