Maryland elections officials have given a committee that poured tens of thousands of dollars into Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III’s 2010 campaign until Aug. 10 to explain why it failed to report a $206,000 donation to his campaign treasury.
Jared DeMarinis, who heads the campaign finance office of the State Board of Elections, confirmed the request to County 1, a committee set up in 2010 for a slate of candidates made up of Baker (D) and three state delegates.
County 1’s $206,000 donation to Baker’s campaign committee, Friends of Rushern Baker, came on Jan. 13, 2010, according to state records. But County 1 did not report any income of its own until Jan. 22, 2010, and it never reported the $206,000 transfer to Baker’s campaign.
County 1’s newly appointed treasurer, Aaron Copeland, said he believes that $200,000 came from a subsidiary of Southern Management Corp., which owns thousand of apartments in Prince George’s. Southern Management’s chief executive, David Hillman, is a longtime Baker supporter.
Hillman said in an interview last week that the subsidiary, Renters Finance, loaned about $300,000 to two campaign committees that were supporting Baker in 2010, and that $100,000 of that has been repaid.
After the state campaign finance office receives County 1’s explanation for the omissions, it could require revisions to the committee’s reports or could refer the matter to the Maryland state prosecutor’s office for further review.
County 1 also failed to file required campaign finance reports for the past two years and was assessed a $500 fine, which DeMarinis said soon will be referred to the state prosecutor’s office.
The $206,000 donation in early 2010 was critical to Baker’s efforts to demonstrate that he had a fat campaign war chest as he kicked off his campaign for the Democratic nomination for county executive. He faced four opponents in his third bid for the office.
Without the infusion from County 1, Baker’s campaign treasury would have had about $105,000 in cash in early 2010, instead of the approximately $311,000 it reported to the state.
Slate committees long have been controversial in Maryland and are viewed by critics as a way to work around limits on donations. Donations in Maryland from individuals and corporate entities to a campaign committee during a four-year election cycle are capped at $4,000. But slate committees such as County 1 can transfer funds in unlimited amounts from its account to its members’ accounts.
The General Assembly this year tightened campaign finance law to limit those transfers to $24,000 during a four-year cycle. The law does not take effect until 2015.
Baker’s 2010 campaign was costly. County 1’s 2010 filings show that it spent about $316,000, all of it on Baker’s campaign. His own committee has reported spending more than $800,000 in 2010. But the state campaign finance office, based on new information from Copeland about the debt of Friends of Rushern Baker, recently amended reports for 2011 and 2012, and more amendments for other years are likely because of a software glitch in the state reporting system, Copeland said.
Copeland, who is already serving as treasurer of Friends of Rushern Baker, took over as treasurer of County 1 last week at Baker’s request after the former treasurer was asked to resign.
Copeland said the other $6,000 of the unreported $206,000 appears to have come from three sources in January 2010: $2,500 from Keith Forney, a D.C. businessman whose firm, Forney Enterprises, was recently cited for giving D.C. Council member Marion Barry a $2,800 gift that was illegal for Barry to accept; $2,500 from Magnificus Corp., a District-based medical staffing company; and $1,000 from Oluremi Ilupeju, a Silver Spring physician.
On Aug. 10, 2010, County 1 returned $2,500 to Forney because his donations had gone over the $4,000 limit, state elections records show.
County 1’s members are Baker (D) and three state Democratic delegates from Prince George’s: Dereck E. Davis, Barbara A. Frush and Tawanna P. Gaines. The three legislators have said they knew nothing about the source of the donation from the slate committee to Baker’s campaign.
All are expected to run for reelection. Baker announced his reelection on June 20 at a private fundraiser.