The Maryland State Board of Elections on Thursday found that Republican Larry Hogan had not properly accounted for a poll commissioned before the launch of his gubernatorial bid but voted to waive a $50 fine that it could have imposed.
The issue arose as part of a larger complaint filed by the Maryland Democratic Party alleging that Hogan had improperly used Change Maryland, a watchdog group he founded, to prepare to run for governor. The board took no action on other aspects of the complaint.
Last September, Change Maryland paid for a poll that included questions about how Hogan would fare in a potential race for governor against Democratic candidates, including Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, who is now the party’s gubernatorial nominee.
In January, when Hogan declared his candidacy, his campaign agreed to purchase the assets of Change Maryland for $79,720. The calculation was based largely on the value of the organization’s Facebook account, supporter lists and Web site.
In a report to the elections board made public Thursday, board staff said Hogan’s campaign should have also assigned a monetary value to the poll, which it later used during Hogan’s primary campaign to argue that Hogan had momentum.
Hogan’s campaign has since acknowledged the mistake and listed the poll as an $825 in-kind contribution from Change Maryland. That’s roughly 5 percent of what Change Maryland paid for the poll, according to elections board staff.
That percentage is consistent with federal guidelines on how to value polls in the months after they are conducted. Maryland does not have its own standards.
Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance, said the board could impose a $50 fine on the Hogan campaign. He noted, however, that regulations that spell out how much campaigns should be fined in such instances were not in place at the time the violation occurred.
As a result, the board voted unanimously to waive the fine.
The activities of Change Maryland also drew a complaint earlier this year from two of Hogan’s Republican primary opponents. In that case, the board said it had little authority to regulate exploratory activities of the kind Change Maryland conducted for Hogan.
After Thursday’s vote by the board, Hogan spokesman Adam Dubitksy said: “We’ve said all along we’re operating in good faith, and once again the Board of Elections agrees.”
Jared Smith, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, offered a different take. He said that “despite all of his finger pointing and accusations, Larry Hogan is the only candidate in this race who has been found to have broken election law.”
Earlier Thursday, Hogan summoned reporters to his office and said he is urging state and federal prosecutors to look into political donations made by state contractors who have worked on Maryland’s online health insurance exchange.