Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Team Baker Responds to MPW

A representative of Rushern Baker’s County Executive campaign has responded to MPW’s series on his campaign finances.

David E. Byrd, who says he is affiliated with Team Baker, left the following comments on our “Baker Staffers Discuss Response to MPW” post. We guess that means the discussion is over!

Adam, there are several reasons your reporting on Mr. Baker can be considered “bullshit.” At the top of the list is your assertion that Mr. Baker belongs to a “one-person slate,” which is factually incorrect. Now, if you worked for the Washington Post or The Gazette, you’d know this because searching the internet without verifying the information you find would bring immediate sanction from even the most sedate editor. You would have been required to call Mr. Baker’s office for a response before publishing erroneous information. As a blogger, you are liberated from journalism ethics and protocol and can proceed as your ire and passion dictates. No one can fault you for coming home after working all day and spending time researching campaign finance reports and other public documents; filling a perceived gap in hard-nosed investigative journalism, without the institutional resources of a major or regional publication. In fact, you provide a valuable service and are to admired for your hard work. I beg you to apply a similar level of scrutiny to every Prince George’s County Executive candidate’s fund raising history. But, what about the slippery slope into fallacious conclusions that allowed you to skip a critical step in your keyboard indictment of Rushern Baker’s ethics?

How could he possibly get the documents to open a “slate” bank account from the Maryland Board of Elections without additional candidates listed on the paperwork? Perhaps, a less eager blogger/journalist would have discovered what the Washington Post had reported over a month ago:


There are and always have been other candidates on the slate. I guess you can’t always believe what you find on the internet; right Adam?

However, you are not a journalist. You work for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, which requires noting for reasons that will become obvious as the campaign finance reports of all candidates become public in August, or sooner. You can post six consecutive days of either misleading or inaccurate information, unencumbered by any editorial oversight, or personal responsibility, because you have an internet account. We at the Baker campaign cannot call your boss, expect a correction, or an apology. In fact, you’re free to skewer Rushern Baker under the guise of “reporting,” without ever revealing the true motivation for your assault on his character or that of his friends and donors. That is the second reason I consider your series “bullshit.”

Now, we each have had our turn thumping our chest on behalf of our friend/candidate. Might we introduce a tinge of reality into this episode? We get it; we really do. Nobody wants an executive that cares more about the people that funded his campaign, then the people he’s been elected to represent. Anyone that believes Rushern Baker is that kind of person should not vote for him, period.

All the candidates for County Executive believe in their hearts, they can help bring Prince George’s County to the next level. None of the candidates for County Executive are independently wealthy. If you ask any politician from the lowest municipal seat to the President of the United States what part of their job they enjoy the least, most will say fund raising. I have known Rushern since we were children and speak personally about his distaste for the act of asking people to loan or donate money to his campaign. However he does it and has done it because he believes he can make a difference if he’s elected County Executive and Prince George’s County no longer has the lowest rated schools in the state: first education, first in job creation, last in crime, last in foreclosures. That is Rushern’s mantra; his vision; and, his reason for enduring the attacks on his character, the many hours of fund raising calls, and the hundreds of nights away his family, listening to the concerns of the people of Prince George's County.

I’m certain Mr. Jackson, Mr. Knotts, Mr. Dean and some of the lesser known candidates feel the same way. Yet, in a 485 square mile jurisdiction with nearly 400,000 eligible voters, one can’t win a countywide election on shoe leather alone. You have to raise lots of money. To touch a portion of the voters once, you need over a million dollars. Adam, if you needed a million dollars over the next few months, how would you raise it?

If you suggest the solution is to raise the dollars directly from the people you hope to represent through grassroots efforts, well Rushern has nearly as many small donors as all his competitors combined. If you suggest that the funds should come from personal resources, then Mr. Baker meets that requirement as well. As an executive of a non-profit during a downturn in the economy, he likely takes home less money than you do, Adam, in your job as an assistant to a union executive in downtown, D.C. Yet, he has sacrificed, taken equity from his home, for a chance to bring his message to the people of Prince George’s County. If you believe that one should play by the rules, but avoid a hint of impropriety, then you may suggest taking on $750,000 of debt and having to spend the next three years raising money to pay it back is a political sin. You and I will disagree. It is a stressful burden, especially given most of the money will go to the media and pay the salaries of the very people that criticize you for accepting the donations, without offering a hint of how you come up with a million dollars in a jurisdiction that has one of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the state of Maryland. Rushern Baker is the kind of man that goes without a salary to keep from laying off employees. He ran twice and would not form a slate either time, despite the suggestions of politicos and advisers that he do so, because he championed and believes in comprehensive campaign finance reform. He still takes the high road; he just won’t drive his campaign off a cliff and by doing so hand the county’s future over to his opponents. It’s not unethical to refuse to unilaterally disarm and follow the law. To suggest otherwise is the definition of political naïveté.

On the other hand, some of the candidates that have criticized Mr. Baker’s contributions and positioned themselves as being of a higher ethical stock, sought similar levels of funding from nearly every Baker contributor they want to drag to the journalistic gallows today. Reason three your reporting on the matter is “bullshit.” Why would someone that transfers $100,000 from their slate to a personal campaign account during the “off year” or someone that sought but failed to get the $200,000 donation from a wealthy donor, be considered more “transparent,” when they hide from the public their many failed meetings seeking big donors?

Adam, I have never met you and I bet you’re great guy: smart, fun loving, a good friend. I’ve enjoyed your blog in the past and will continue to read it in the future. Under different circumstances, we might find ourselves fighting for the rights of workers together or pushing for health care reform, shoveling out seniors, or some other progressive cause. Today, however, you crossed the line by repeatedly publishing false information. You failed your readership, by not fully disclosing your motivations and you owe them apology. Of course, I assume you’re much too proud a man to offer an apology to Mr. Baker, but we appreciate that your intentions are not personal, just politics as usual.

All the best,

David E. Byrd
Team Baker

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Our Response:

Thank you for commenting under your own name, David.

1. You are absolutely correct that I am not a journalist, so let’s discuss what the journalists at the Gazette have reported. Their article of February 18 reported the following about the slate:

Under state law, a slate committee must support more than one candidate. However, forms for County 1 Now only list Baker as the group’s intended candidate.

Adams said last month that County 1 Now is also supporting two longtime delegates: Tawanna Gaines (D-Dist. 22) of Berwyn Heights and Barbara Frush (D-Dist. 21) of Beltsville. Neither delegate is listed on the slate’s paperwork, and no donations have been made to Gaines or Frush so far.
James Adams is Rushern Baker’s press spokesman. The Post article that you cited did not contradict the Gazette’s findings on the paperwork.

The Gazette article also said this:

Adams initially praised the slate and promised to work on obtaining the reports last month, but said Friday that he is not really in close contact with the campaign’s biggest contributor.

“I really don’t know those folks,” Adams said. “It’s really out of my [list of] names and knowledge.”
It’s quite bizarre for Baker’s own campaign people to have no knowledge of the slate, don’t you think? And it was also quite remarkable how the campaign left Adams swinging in the wind on this issue. Adams originally told the Post that the campaign was going to disclose all of the slate’s donors soon on January 26:

“There’s no secret,” Adams said of the slate's funding sources. “There are going to be no secrets about anything in our campaign.”
But the campaign took the opposite position on February 19, accusing the Post of “innuendo disguised as journalism.” Baker has done quite a disservice to his own spokesman by deciding to maintain absolute secrecy over the $206,000 in slate contributions.

As of this morning (March 2), nearly two months after the establishment of the County 1 Now slate, Baker is still the only member listed on the State Board of Elections’ website. The slate has been heavily scrutinized by the Post, the Gazette and this blog for about six weeks now. That has given the Baker campaign a strong incentive to correct SBE’s records if SBE indeed made a mistake. Yet, SBE continues to show that Baker is the only member of the slate, meaning that it is not in compliance with state law. If SBE issues a letter stating that its records are in error and that other candidates have been members of the slate since the day of its inception, I will run that letter on this blog and stop talking about a “one-candidate slate.”

2. My union had nothing to do with the production of this series. I have disclosed my occupation many times on this blog, as well as my political affiliations. This is nothing more than an attempt to change the subject by going after the messenger.

3. I am struck by what you chose NOT to discuss. You did not address the $166,000 in loans from MStream Inc., an entity created by the campaign’s Treasurer shortly before the loans began and closed shortly after they ended. Is this a legitimate company or just a shell for moving money around? You did not address the combined $750,000+ in loans and contributions from Southern Management boss David Hillman, which may be the biggest exploitation of the LLC loophole by any Maryland candidate ever. What is Hillman going to get for his $750,000? And is Hillman responsible for the $206,000 in slate transfers that the Baker campaign is trying desperately to avoid disclosing until August?

4. Let’s discuss my “motivations.” Maryland’s campaign finance rules are in hopeless disarray and matters might get worse in the wake of the Citizens United decision allowing unlimited corporate “free speech.” The LLC loophole, of which Baker is a leading user, has been employed by a racetrack owner to pursue the miserable failure of a slots amendment that was passed in 2008 and has also been used by a developer to corrupt and ultimately bring down the Mayor of Baltimore. Baker’s campaign finance record over the last decade, and not just over the last two months, shows the same willingness to engage in the kinds of fundraising practices that have brought such ruin to the state. Other politicians will be sure to emulate his actions if they result in victory.

The irony here is that Baker does not have to do any of this. He has more name recognition across Prince George’s County than any of the other candidates. He deserves great credit for standing up to the appalling administration of Jack Johnson when no one else did. And he is a man of enormous charisma, intelligence and talent. In a clean race, Baker would be the overwhelming favorite. But he has chosen to hide his contributions from a dubious slate, to take $166,000 from an obscure entity controlled by his treasurer and to accept at least one-quarter of his $3 million in total funding over the last decade from one apartment building owner. I do not know of similar conduct rising to this level on the part of any of his opponents.

And that provides my motivation. I would like to see more disclosure and clean elections. Rushern Baker says he favors the same things, as his campaign’s response to the Gazette said, “In keeping with his lifelong beliefs, Baker will fight for greater disclosure of political contributions when he is elected county executive.” I understand that some rules are bent and loopholes are used by many candidates during elections across the state, but I have never seen anything resembling the cumulative total of all of the tactics deployed by the Baker campaign. Any candidate who wants to run as a reformer who will provide much-needed change from Jack Johnson has to act like one. Otherwise, Prince George’s County will get little more than another Johnson and the rest of the state will foot the bill.

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.