The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hogan raises $1 million for public advocacy campaign, launches television ads

Supporters of funding the Kirwan education plan rallied near the Maryland State House in Annapolis on Feb. 17. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to longtime Hogan booster Thomas Kelso as chair of the Change Maryland Action Fund super PAC. He is chair of the Change Maryland nonprofit. The super PAC does not have a chairman.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan raised $1.1 million last year for a super PAC created to sway public opinion, according to records released to The Washington Post on Friday, including from one major donor whose firm has potential business before the state.

The governor’s Change Maryland Action Fund also unveiled two new television ads attacking Democrats in the Maryland legislature.

The ads, which will appear online as well as on cable and broadcast television, encourage residents to call lawmakers — and urge them to either pass Hogan’s proposals to combat crime in Baltimore or reject a plan to broaden the sales tax to generate money for a broad education overhaul being pushed by Democratic leaders.

Hogan (R) is term-limited, but has solicited donations from supporters into federal campaign accounts that — because he is not running for office — are exempt from Maryland’s campaign finance donation limits.

According to a confidential memo obtained by The Post last fall, Hogan and his supporters set a goal of raising $2 million by the end of the year into a pair of political groups.

On Friday, Change Maryland Action Fund provided The Post with previously undisclosed fundraising records for one of those organizations. The records, filed with the Internal Revenue Service but not yet publicly available, show the vast majority of donors contributed less than $1,000 apiece.

A dozen donors crossed the $25,000 threshold, including: Fred Smith, vice president of Sinclair Broadcasting; Marc Weller, developer of the $5.5 billion Port Covington project in Baltimore; and Chris Larsen of Halmar International. Halmar’s website says it is pursuing Hogan’s $9 billion public-private partnership to add toll lanes to the Capital Beltway and Interstate 270.

The other organization, a political nonprofit called Change Maryland, is not required to disclose its donors.

David Weinman of the Change Maryland Action Fund said in an email that every one of that group’s donors has been disclosed, and neither group has raised so-called “dark money” from undisclosed sources.

Weinman is also political director for Hogan’s third political entity, a nonprofit called An America United that focuses on bipartisan solutions to public policy questions.

While Hogan has positioned himself nationally as a GOP leader with the ability to work across the aisle, the ads he released Friday continue his direct attacks on Maryland’s Democratic-majority legislature.

The anti-tax ad begins by saying “the Maryland legislature wants to destroy our economy” and argues that a plan to raise $2.6 billion for schools by taxing most business services — things such as haircuts and home repairs — would be “crushing.”

Democrats pitched lowering the sales tax on goods, but applying it to a vast array of services as one way to raise billions for a sweeping education proposal. The overhaul is the top priority for Democrats, who hold super majorities in both chambers.

The crime ad calls Baltimore “America’s most violent city” and pitches Hogan’s proposed legislation to address the problem through, among other things, more accountability for judges and tougher sentences for violent offenders.

Lawmakers have said they have qualms about whether mandatory sentencing is fair or would effectively address the violence. But they advanced some of Hogan’s other concepts on Friday afternoon, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in a statement.

A quarter of the $346,000 the super PAC spent last year went to Purple Surfboard, LLC, a political consulting firm recently created by longtime Hogan booster Thomas Kelso, who chairs the governor’s Change Maryland non-profit.

In addition to filing paperwork to create the consulting firm, Kelso is chair of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which oversees large-scale, state-sponsored construction projects. Kelso said in a statement that he has turned over control of Purple Surfboard to Rob Phillips III, another Hogan supporter. Kelso said he is not an employee or agent of the firm and draws no compensation from it.

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