Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominee Larry Hogan’s campaign manager was paid more than $35,000 by Change Maryland, the watchdog organization founded by the Anne Arundel County businessman, in the months leading up to his announcement for governor.
The payments, included in information that Change Maryland provided to the Internal Revenue Service, are likely to provide further ammunition for Hogan critics, who contend that he improperly used his organization to launch his bid for governor this year.
But Steve Crim, Hogan’s campaign manager, said his compensation and other expenses detailed in the IRS filing, including a poll and catering costs, were legitimate expenses for an organization advocating for a change in the current leadership in Annapolis.
“We were ramping up our efforts at Change Maryland for 2014 to help whomever,” said Crim, who said that he had aided Hogan periodically with Change Maryland since its founding in 2011.
The IRS filing lists a total of $213,040 in Change Maryland expenses in 2013 and says the group raised nearly $146,000 in donations, much of that from businesses. The Post recently obtained the filing through a request to the Hogan campaign.
The information provided to the IRS shows no payments to Crim last year until July. After that, Change Maryland paid a total of $35,755 to Crim’s consulting company, Voter Contact Solutions, according to the filings.
Nearly $20,000 of that amount was paid in December 2013, the month after Hogan held an event at which he signaled he would announce his candidacy for governor in January 2014.
Change Maryland also paid more than $32,000 in catering costs for that event, held in November at the Double Tree hotel in Annapolis, the site of a Maryland Republican Party convention the same weekend.
Other expenses detailed by Change Maryland include $16,500 for a poll conducted in September 2013, four months before Hogan announced his candidacy, that tested his standing against Democratic hopefuls for governor, including Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, now the Democratic nominee.
Critics have charged that Hogan should have been using a campaign committee regulated by the Maryland State Board of Elections to pay for such spending rather than Change Maryland, a not-for-profit limited liability company with fewer disclosure requirements. The group was a frequent critic of the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), releasing several studies and maintaining an active presence of Facebook.
The elections board has dismissed two complaints regarding Hogan’s use of Change Maryland. In its findings last month, the board said that the organization had engaged in “exploratory activities” to benefit a possible run for governor by Hogan, its founder and chairman. But the board said Maryland has few rules governing exploratory bids and that it had no authority to regulate them.
Last month, the Maryland Democratic Party filed a new complaint, zeroing in on several expenses, including the September poll, which it alleged was an illegal in-kind donation to Hogan’s campaign by Change Maryland. That complaint is pending before the elections board.
Hogan’s campaign has contended that the Democratic complaint, like the earlier ones, is politically motivated. One of the two earlier complaints was filed by a pair of Hogan’s rivals in the June Republican primary.
The IRS filing also lists several dozen donors to Change Maryland during the 2013 calendar year, including Hogan’s real estate company, which contributed $10,000, according to the filings. (Change Maryland also reported reimbursing one of Hogan’s companies nearly $22,000 for “Web services.”)
Other donors to Change Maryland last year include several other real estate and construction businesses, including some that are listed as clients on the Web site of Hogan’s real estate company. Those include the Peterson Cos., the developer of National Harbor in Prince George’s County, which gave $2,500, according to the filing.
Other donors include Del. Steven R. Schuh (R-Anne Arundel), who gave $5,000; and the U.S. Senate campaign of Dan Bongino, which gave $2,000.
In several cases, donors gave more than $4,000, which is the limit for an individual or company contributing to a Maryland candidate. That limit did not apply to Change Maryland under federal rules.