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Friday, November 8, 2013

Kudos to Mayor and Board for Closing Campaign Finance Loophole

George Wenschhof

Last night, during The City of Frederick mayor and board meeting, they passed an amendment to close the loophole that allowed individuals who also control entities to exceed the amount of campaign contributions allowed under the law.

The vote was 4-0 was alderman Shelley Aloi (R) abstaining.  The law will go into effect December 6, 2013.

Under the law, mayoral candidates are allowed contributions up to $2,500 and alderman candidates $1,000.

I was the first to report, after the candidates had filed their first campaign finance report on August 12, that Democratic mayoral candidate Galen Clagett had received a total of $30,000 from entities controlled by two people and that Democratic mayoral candidate Karen Young had received $7,500 via entitles controlled by one person.

This had been done legally by using multiple LLC’s with donations from each not exceeding the $2,500 limit.
Realizing, a law could not be passed in time to impact the remainder of the election, I asked candidates to pledge to not accept donations that exceeded "the intent or spirit of the law".
All of the candidates responded and agreed, with only Republican alderman candidate Katie Nash providing a convoluted and confusing answer to my question.
The city moved quickly to address these concerns and during a mayor and board workshop held on October 9, agreed the "loophole" should be closed. City attorney Rachel Depo presented them with a proposal modeled after a recently passed state of Maryland campaign finance law.
After, reviewing the law, I recommended a change in the definition of what constitutes a contribution from one contributor in Sec. 7-22. Limit on contributions. (d) (ii) which read "the business entities are owned or controlled by at least 80% of the same individuals or business entities.

In a conversation with assistant city attorney Rachel Depo, she informed me the state committee had recommended 50% and it evidently had been changed to 80% by the state legislature. 
In a column published on October 13, I expressed my hope the city would go with the 50% level to further restrict influence by a single contributor.
Last night, Democratic alderman Michael O'Connor made the motion, that passed 4-0, to approve the proposal presented by the city attorney with a change to "business entities owned or controlled by at least 51% of the same individuals or business entities.
The mayor and board should be commended for moving quickly to close this campaign finance loophole.
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