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Md. Democratic Party files complaint targeting GOP candidate Larry Hogan

Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan, center, poses for a picture at a clam bake last week, in Crisfield, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Maryland Democratic Party filed a complaint Thursday alleging that Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan had illegally used Change Maryland, a watchdog group he operated, to promote his upcoming campaign.

The State Board of Elections dismissed two similar complaints earlier this month, but the Democratic party said it was offering new information that had not been fully considered. A spokesman for Hogan disagreed, saying there was “no news here” and accusing Democrats of trying to divert attention from other issues.

Among other things, the Democratic complaint zeroes in on a poll conducted by Change Maryland in September — 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.

The complaint contends that the poll cost at least $10,000 and was an illegal in-kind donation to Hogan’s campaign. While Hogan’s campaign later purchased that assets of Change Maryland, the poll was not included in the transaction, the complaint says.

The Democrats also take issue with Facebook and Twitter postings by Change Maryland promoting Hogan that occurred before the campaign purchased the group’s assets.

“Larry Hogan very clearly violated state election law, and we hope the board acts quickly to address these facts.” Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis said in a statement Thursday.

Earlier this month, the elections board dismissed complaints filed by two of Hogan’s Republican primary rivals — Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Del. Ronald A George (Anne Arundel) — and by a Baltimore-area couple.

Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitsky characterized the GOP complaint as “nearly identical and politically motivated.”

Both complaints alleged that Hogan illegally benefited from the resources of Change Maryland, a group that kept a critical eye on the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) through occasional studies and frequent social media postings.

In its findings, the elections board said that Change Maryland, which Hogan launched in 2011, had engaged in “exploratory activities” to benefit a possible run for governor by its founder. But the board said Maryland has few rules governing exploratory bids and that it had no authority to regulate them.

The Democratic complaint attempts to identify specific violations of existing election law that could draw sanctions.

“Confronted with more bad economic news, scathing reports of abuse and neglect at state-licensed assisted living facilities, gross mismanagement in his administration and another high-profile employer leaving the state, it’s no surprise that Anthony Brown wants to change the subject,” Dubitsky said.

Hogan faces Brown in the November general election. Both prevailed in June primaries.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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