Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rushern Baker on the Spot, Part Six

Prince George’s County Executive candidate Rushern Baker has taken tens of thousands of dollars from a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate who is a birther, even more money from an obscure entity operated by his campaign Treasurer and at least three-quarters of a million dollars from one apartment building owner. All of the above is legal. But what about his slate account?

Baker’s acceptance of $206,000 in contributions from the “County 1 Now” slate triggered significant coverage from the Post and the Gazette as well as this investigative series. The slate account was established on 1/5/10. Under state law, slate accounts can transfer unlimited amounts of money to candidates who are members. The Post reported that the slate account was established too recently to be required to file a January report and did not have to disclose its donors until August. That may be true, but there is a hitch.

As of this writing, the County 1 Now slate has only one member: Rushern Baker.

State law says that slates must be formed by more than one candidate. After all, if single candidates could form slates, they could easily get around contribution limits.

The State Board of Elections’ summary guide goes even further by stating, “A slate account is required to have 2 candidate members at all times. If there are less than 2 members, the slate is required to close the committee and file a final report.”

At the time that the County 1 Now slate transferred $206,000 to Baker, it was not in compliance with state law. The State Board of Elections has a responsibility to compel Baker to return that payment.

But there are bigger issues here. Rushern Baker’s serial use of the LLC loophole, big loans steered through an entity controlled by his treasurer and additional money from a one-person slate amounts to a deliberate strategy to circumvent the state’s campaign finance rules. That strategy could well be copied by other candidates. If it is, the state’s already-fragile system for regulating political contributions will become wholly irrelevant. And if that happens, the losers will be the very working people that candidates like Baker say they are running in order to help.

Update: The Post has since reported that the slate has three members. When your author contacted the State Board of Elections to verify this, they did not respond to our request.