The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Md. governor candidate wants probe after dossier questions life story

Detailed opposition papers questioning Wes Moore’s childhood and best-selling book prompted him to ask state prosecutors to investigate

Wes Moore appears at the Beating the Odds Summit in 2019 at Howard University. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore asked state prosecutors on Tuesday to investigate and criminally charge whoever is behind a widely circulated, anonymous political dossier that alleges the Maryland Democratic candidate for governor lied about his past.

That 14-page memo centers on Moore’s telling of his own story, primarily in his best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” which launched his national profile in 2010. The report states that Moore falsely suggested he was born in Baltimore and grew up there, and that he embellished the hardships he and his mother faced during his childhood.

Moore denies that he has misrepresented himself.

A lawyer for the Moore campaign wrote to prosecutors and election officials that the “false and disparaging” claims seek to influence the election and therefore should have contained information identifying who created the dossier. The information was sent last week via an anonymous email address to leaders of the powerful state teachers union, ahead of the organization’s endorsement vote.

Maryland campaign finance law prohibits candidates from spreading election information without identifying themselves. Knowingly and willingly violating campaign finance law is a misdemeanor.

The Moore campaign’s lawyer, Amanda S. La Forge, alleged without direct evidence that another campaign was behind the dossier and accused it of criminal activity. In a statement to The Washington Post, the rival campaign denied the allegation.

Moore’s background is a central component of his pitch to voters. His first book became a New York Times bestseller, landed him on major media networks and led to a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. It tells the story of himself, a Rhodes scholar and veteran, and a man of the same name and similar age from Baltimore who is serving a life sentence for murder.

A spokesman for Moore said he was unavailable for an interview.

Moore, a first-time candidate, secured the coveted teachers union endorsement last week. He raised the most cash in the crowded Democratic field, according to campaign filings from January. The 10-way race for the July 19 nomination has accelerated in recent weeks, as candidates try to trim the field.

The Moore campaign lawyer told prosecutors that one of several public documents included in the dossier — a copy of Moore’s original voter registration file — was obtained through a public information request by a researcher working for a rival campaign. Moore’s campaign filed its own public records request to ascertain who had asked for the file, which is open to inspection under Maryland’s Public Information Act.

The Moore campaign’s decision to publicly highlight negative accusations about him perplexed some political observers.

“This is a risky move by the Moore campaign,” said Democratic strategist Justin Schall, who is not affiliated with any Maryland gubernatorial campaign this cycle.

“In a multicandidate primary, the real winners in a mud fight are the candidates that aren’t involved,” he said.