The campaign of Larry Hogan, a Republican businessman running for governor in Maryland, has filed a complaint with state elections officials alleging that his opponent’s campaign inappropriately coordinated with an independent expenditure-only committee that is largely funded by labor unions.
These committees, better known as Super PACs, can collect as much money as they want from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, and then spend that money advocating for a candidate or cause. But Super PACs are not allowed to strategically coordinate and cooperate with the candidates and their campaigns — something that has been difficult for many states to define and police.
As the Maryland gubernatorial race heated up in January, the State Board of Elections issued guidelines for preventing improper communication between Super PACS and campaigns. That included forbidding the two from sharing “campaign material, strategies, or information that is not generally available to the public, such as advertising, messaging, strategy, polling, research, or allocation of resources.” Even discussing campaign staffing arrangements could violate the law.
Hogan’s team believes that the campaign of Democratic nominee Anthony G. Brown has violated the law because one of its financial consultants — Colleen Martin-Lauer, who has raised money for several prominent Maryland Democrats — has also worked for “One State, One Future,” a Super PAC based in Maryland that received nearly all of its money from unions. Hogan’s campaign also drew attention to a financial consultant who worked for Ken Ulman, Brown’s running mate, and the Super PAC.
“A fundraising coordinator working for multiple entities is implicitly acting in a ‘coordinated’ fashion because of such an individual’s unique knowledge concerning the contribution limits encountered by potential and existing contributors,” Steve Crim, Hogan’s campaign manager, wrote in a complaint dated Sept. 4 and shared with reporters on Monday. “Finance consulting is not a ministerial role in a campaign. To be effective, it requires intimate knowledge of campaign strategy, timelines, and research.”
Crim called Martin-Lauer’s dual positions a “blatant example of illegal coordination” because “it is simply impossible” for her to coordinate fundraising for both entities and not coordinate her efforts. Martin-Lauer did not respond to a request for comment.
Brown campaign manager Justin Schall called the complaint a “false accusation” and a “three-month-old political ploy” previously used by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who lost to Brown in the Democratic primary in June.
“One State, One Future” ran television ads that aggressively attacked Gansler and called him “unfit to be governor.” Gansler publicly questioned the possible ties between Brown’s campaign and the Super PAC, but he did not file a complaint.
Jared DeMarinis, the election board’s director of candidacy and campaign finance, said the board will notify the parties named in the complaint, ask for additional information and then determine if improper coordination occurred.
“It will be thorough, and it will be complete,” he said of the probe, “but I can’t put a timeline on it.”
DeMarinis added that this is Maryland’s first gubernatorial race since the explosion of Super PACs.
“Every state is grappling with the coordination issue,” DeMarinis said. “This is the new reality across the country.”