Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s re-election campaign could be slapped with a $250 fine for a minor violation of state election law, an inconvenience that has erupted into a messy partisan brawl.
Hogan’s campaign attorney Dirk Haire, who also chairs the Maryland Republican Party, says he’ll ask the state prosecutor’s office to launch an official misconduct investigation if Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) doesn’t act to block the fine, which was proposed by staffers at the state Board of Elections in response to a complaint from Maryland Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews.
Haire is also threatening to file a complaint alleging that Frosh’s campaign illegally charged children for ice cream at a fundraiser.
The Republican chairman of the elections board, which normally defers to staff to handle alleged election-law violations, says he and board members from both parties will offer their own concerns and input on the proposed fine at an upcoming meeting.
The fine is in response to an April 2 email sent by Alfred W. Redmer, a former state delegate who serves as insurance commissioner to Hogan, that sought hosts for a summer fundraiser for Hogan’s re-election next year.
The Democratic Party cried foul because Maryland law prohibits state officeholders, and those acting on their behalf, from soliciting campaign donations or advertising upcoming fundraisers during the annual 90-day legislative session, which this year ran from Jan. 11 to April 10.
Elections officials were weighing whether Redmer was acting on behalf of Hogan’s reelection campaign, and whether his request for hosts who would raise a minimum amount of money for the event was an illegal overture or a legitimate “save-the-date” notice.
They learned that Redmer asked Hogan campaign officials for guidance on organizing the fundraiser, according to records provided under the Public Information Act. The campaign warned Redmer not to distribute the invitations during the legislative session, and he did so anyway.
Nevertheless, Jared DeMarinis, who heads the election board’s campaign finance division, concluded that the Hogan campaign was responsible for Redmer’s actions. In a letter sent to the Hogan campaign, DeMarinis proposed a $250 fine, half of the maximum penalty.
Haire, acting as Hogan’s campaign attorney, retorted in an email that the election agency was misinterpreting the law. He accused Frosh, whose office had provided advice on how to interpret Maryland’s campaign finance law, of taking a “nakedly political and legally unjustified position.”
“If . . . this issue either is not rapidly concluded without a violation and/or it ends up in the press, it is my intention to make a request to empanel a grand jury to consider if an indictment is warranted against the Attorney General for misconduct in office,” Haire wrote in an Aug. 10 email.
After hearing the content of Haire’s email, House Majority Leader C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) called it “bizarre and inappropriate.”
“At best, he is trying to bully a nonpartisan state employee who is doing his job,” Frick said. “At worst, he is threatening criminal actions against a fellow statewide elected official on Hogan’s behalf.”
But Haire maintained that Frosh, a Democratic political rival of Hogan, could not have been neutral when his staff advised election officials on how the law should be interpreted.
“This is a politically contrived, non-serious effort to take illegal action against the governor,” Haire said.
Elections board chair David J. McManus Jr. said the board wants to have a public discussion of the probe into Redmer’s email because it raises new questions about election law, especially the notion that a campaign may be fined if a staffer or volunteer does something they were explicitly told not to do.
“Something that is not typical and novel is something we should still have a say in,” McManus said.
If the fine against Hogan goes through, Haire says he will retaliate with a complaint about an Aug. 26 ice cream social in Baltimore organized by Frosh’s campaign, where children were charged $10 for half-pints. Children cannot legally give campaign contributions, Haire said, and their parents are prohibited from making contributions on behalf of another person.
“My point here is, this is a waste of time for everyone,” said Haire. “Why are we bothering with such trivial matters?”
On that point, Frosh spokeswoman Raquel Coombs seemed to agree. She called Haire’s allegations “ridiculous.”