Monday, February 22, 2010

Rushern Baker on the Spot, Part One

The Washington Post has put a deserved spotlight on Prince George’s County Executive candidate Rushern Baker’s fundraising practices. The object of the Post’s inquiry is a $206,000 contribution to Baker from his “County 1 Now” slate. State law permits slate accounts to make unlimited transfers to member candidates. Because the slate formed on 1/5/10, it has no duty to disclose its contributors until August. After initially promising to reveal the slate’s donors soon, Baker’s campaign angrily backed away from that commitment. Both the Post and County Executive candidate Gerron Levi show no sign of backing off the issue.

But the Post only has a small part of this story. Rushern Baker’s three races for County Executive present a fascinating case study of contributions, relationships, debt and campaign finance loopholes that is unusual in Maryland politics. In a new six-part series, MPW begins drawing back the curtains on Baker’s funding record in a way that has never been done before. Every Prince George’s County voter needs to see what the sunshine of disclosure reveals.

The first step to understanding Baker’s financial world is his record of accepting campaign loans. In our ten-year survey of Montgomery County candidate finances last fall, we identified 188 loans to MoCo candidate accounts worth $1.8 million. Of that amount, 175 loans worth $1.71 million, or 95% of the total, came from the candidates themselves. Eight more loans worth $80,310 came from family members of the candidates. Only five loans worth $11,777 came from unrelated individuals. None came from business entities.

That history illustrates a general rule in Maryland: the vast majority of campaign loans are made by the candidates themselves. Montgomery County and the rest of the state have seen many wealthy lawyers and businessmen in both parties drop five- or even six-digit checks on their own campaigns. Big loans from outside parties tend to raise eyebrows. One example was then-Mayor Martin O’Malley’s acceptance of a $500,000 loan from lawyer John Coale just days before the 2006 gubernatorial election. O’Malley defeated incumbent Governor Bob Ehrlich and paid back the loan along with $8,815.07 in interest in January 2007, but the transaction still drew scrutiny from the Post.

Rushern Baker’s loan record does not fit the general rule. We show every loan received by his campaign committee over the last decade below.

Baker’s campaign has accepted 24 loans worth $865,960 since 1999. Nineteen loans worth $580,812 – two-thirds of the total – came from outside individuals and businesses.

These loans are unusual in their own right. But their true revelatory value lies in tracing them to their originators and then back into Baker’s contribution stream. We will begin that exercise tomorrow.