Maryland firefighters funding Montgomery races to support union brothers

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Firefighters from Baltimore and Prince George's County have been pouring money into Montgomery County council races, adding last-minute support to local union brothers who lost out on large raises this year because of Montgomery's budget squeeze.

Council members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, both at-large Democrats running for reelection, received the same contributions from firefighter political action committees from outside Montgomery: $2,500 from the Baltimore County firefighters, $2,500 from the Baltimore City firefighters, and $3,000 from Prince George's firefighters.

Organizers of the PACs said they wanted to support labor-friendly candidates, wherever they are based. Montgomery firefighters -- who made large contributions to those two candidates as well as others -- told their fellow unions whom to support, labor leaders said.

"It's part of the MO of firefighters. We support those who support us, period," said Michael Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association PAC.

The candidates said they were pleased.

"I think the firefighters went out and said, 'This guy's been supportive and he doesn't have a lot of money. Help him out,' " Elrich said. "Trust me, I'm not doing anything for Baltimore or Prince George's County."

"I am proud to have the support of firefighters," Leventhal said.

But some in Montgomery say tapping the outside firefighter funds takes advantage of a loophole and undermines state contribution limits.

"It's a way to evade the limit on PAC contributions of $6,000," said Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who called the contributions "troubling."

"It sounds like sour grapes to me," said John Sparks, president of Montgomery's local firefighters union. "We're not breaking any laws. We're reaching out to all fellow AFL-CIO unions and firefighter unions throughout the state to encourage them to contribute to firefighter-friendly candidates."

Ross Goldstein, deputy administrator of the Maryland Board of Elections, said the contributions are permissible under state law.

During budget deliberations earlier this year, Elrich and Leventhal joined other council members in voting against funding an existing contract that would give most firefighters a 10.5 percent raise. Montgomery's firefighters endorsed both nevertheless.

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