Pr. George's County executive candidate releases name of donor

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010; B02

The vast bulk of a large sum transferred to the campaign of Prince George's County executive candidate Rushern L. Baker III came from a single $200,000 loan connected to a local apartment complex mogul, Baker said Wednesday.

Baker, who officially began his third bid for the county's top post Wednesday, has for weeks been facing media inquiries on his campaign's finances and pressure from a rival candidate to release the names of donors to a slate called County 1 Now.

The slate account, which has three members, was formed Jan. 5 and transferred $206,000 to the Baker campaign about a week later. That money, which made up about two-thirds of Baker's cash on hand, appeared in the campaign finance report he filed that month for his personal campaign committee.

The slate account, however, was not required to report its finances then because of how recently it was formed, so the source of its funds have not been public.

Faced with mounting pressure to identify the money's source, Baker on Tuesday pledged financial disclosure from this point on that goes above what the law requires, with plans to release his campaign's direct contributors 60 days from now, and every 60 days after that, instead of just once more before the September Democratic primary, in an August filing. He challenged other candidates in the race to do the same.

Baker said Wednesday he directed the slate to release the names of its donors, and the slate's spokesman, Alexander Krughoff, said those names were posted online around midnight on Wednesday. Krughoff also said the $206,000 had since been transferred back to the slate, though he did not say when.

Baker said the money was originally transferred to his campaign account so that the public would know it existed. "It was never a problem of them knowing what we have or even knowing who gave us the money," Baker said Wednesday. "It's probably not a secret. . . . Very few people give me money."

According to the records, the slate's donor list is five entries long, and nearly all of the money came from Renters Finance Corp of Silver Spring. The company is an arm of Southern Management Corporation, which lent Baker more than $300,000 during the 2006 campaign.

Southern Management's chief executive, David Hillman, was feuding at the time with County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) because Johnson in 2005 named some of Southern Management's complexes on a list of locations Johnson said were "hot spots" of violence. Hillman said he authorized the loan, and that the only thing he wants from Baker is "good government." "We have 11,000 apartment homes [in the county] and for us to prosper we need good schools, and we need a safe and clean county, and he's the man," Hillman said.

Baker said Hillman told him he lent the money this year because he wanted to see crime decline and education improve.

Baker said the slate's money will be used to fund activities for a group of candidates who are not endorsing each other but will campaign together, and he pledged to support goals including improved education, ethics reform and crime reduction.

The county executive race is crowded and includes County Sheriff Michael A. Jackson (D), County Council members Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) and Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Prince George's) and Henry C. Turner Jr., chairman of the county's commission for veterans.

Levi and Dean declined to take Baker's disclosure pledge Wednesday. Levi said she was, "not going to follow the lead of a candidate that has repeatedly failed to be open and honest about fundraising in order to grab headlines and build false momentum." Dean said his campaign was, "not going to get caught up in the political charade that's out there. Our issue is we have followed all of the laws that govern elections and we will continue to do that."

Jackson said Tuesday he would agree to disclose his direct donors every 60 days, but could not speak for the slates he belongs to since they have other members. Turner said he thought the pledge was a good idea, and would take it if the other candidates agreed to also.

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