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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Candidates Respond To Pledge to Honor Contribution Limits

George Wenschhof

A week ago I published a column where I stated “It is the “spirit of the law”, not the letter of the law, that should be followed by candidates in The City of Frederick election.”

Presently, contributions to city aldermen candidates are limited to $1,000 per person/entity and $2,500 per person/entity for mayoral candidates.

I reported the day the first candidate campaign finance reports were filed, a loophole in the law had been used to get around these limits reflected in the reports filed by the Karen Young and Galen Clagett campaigns for mayor.

$20,000 had been funneled into Democratic Maryland state delegate Galen Clagett’s mayoral campaign via multiple entities associated with local developer Marvin Ausherman. Another $10,000 was received via entities associated with Pleasants construction, another local developer. The $30,000 in contributions was half of what the Clagett campaign received in the first report.

Democratic alderman Karen Young, who won the Democratic primary for mayor, received $7,500 from three entities associated with local businessman John Fitzgerald.

There did not appear to be any illegal contributions.  Yet, the potential influence on an elected official by one who has arranged for a large donation to a campaign, is unsettling to voters, who already feel their voices are lost to big business, corporations and well organized interest groups.

I sent all the candidates links to the columns written on this issue and asked them if they would follow the spirit of the law. 
The aldermen candidates were asked “Would you pledge to honor the $1,000 contribution limit intent of the law, to the best of your knowledge from this point on in the campaign.”

The mayoral candidates were asked “to pledge to the best of their knowledge, to not accept more than $2,500 from any one person or entities associated with any one person, from this point on in the campaign”.

I received responses from all of the candidates with the overwhelming majority of them agreeing to abide by the “intent /spirit of the law”.  Their responses follow below.

Jennifer Dougherty, unaffiliated candidate for mayor said "I will take the pledge, no problem".

Democratic mayoral candidate Karen Young responded in an email to me "Yes".

Republican mayor Randy McClement said “I have never asked for bundled contributions. I will continue, as I always have, to follow all City campaign finance disclosure laws and disclose all contributions and donors”.

Alderman Michael O'Connor (D) stated "he will comply with both the intent and letter of the law".

Democratic alderman candidate John Daniels responded in an email to me: "George, I have every intention of honoring the intent of the law and have not and will not accept contributions that may be questionable. Please consider this my pledge."

Democratic alderman candidate Donna Kuzemchak responded with "Yes, I commit to complying with both the letter and spirit of the law, as I have always done so."

Alderman Kelly Russell (D) responded with "Yes."

Democratic alderman candidate Josh Bokee responded with "Yes".

Republican alderman candidate Alan Imhoff emailed me saying "I have no problem with adhering to the spirit of the “contribution limit intent of the law”.

Republican alderman candidate Dan Cowell responded with "I will honor the law as written. I will not work the loophole accepting more than $1000 from any individual, family, and/or business."

Republican alderman Dave Schmidt responded with "I think the contribution limits are important to prevent anyone from having undue influence on candidates. I pledge that looking forward in this election, I won't accept any contributions from LLC's owned by anyone who has already reached their $1000 limit to my campaign."

Republican alderman candidate Katie Nash’s initially responded with "You're asking me to pledge to follow the law - yes. I'm not being facetious when I ask if you believe I have somehow not followed this law? (If so I want to return the money)."

I responded to her with "I would suggest you read the article and the numerous one that preceded it to more fully understand the question.

The issue is that the law does not appear to have been broken in regard to exceeded the limits. However there are loopholes that allow contributions to exceed the "intent" of the law."

I added in an email saying, in part, "To follow up with you, I have not suggested any city candidate broke the law."

To which she followed with a long response that can be read here.
In an interview, Republican alderman candidate Phil Dacey responded with he was “okay with the “spirit of the law”, particularly with limiting influence of individuals.”  Dacey added, “He would like to see this issue looked at and appropriate revisions made by the next board.”

It is encouraging, that clearly an overwhelming number of candidates have agreed to honor the “intent/spirit of the law” for the remainder of the campaign.

What needs to happen next is for the new mayor and board to move quickly, following being sworn into office, to appoint a committee to review the existing campaign contribution law.
This committee should be charged with making recommendations on revisions to current law to eliminate these existing loopholes. After, receiving public input, a vote at a mayor and board meeting should be taken to amend the candidate contribution guidelines.

The next candidate campaign finance reports are due October 7.

Stay tuned.
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