It looks like there will be no winners this election year when it comes to James T. Smith Jr.’s sizable campaign war chest.
The former Baltimore County Executive was confirmed as secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation after agreeing to freeze the more than $531,000 he has left over in his state campaign account.
“The ability of a cabinet secretary to make sizable campaign transfers during an election year raises an issue that has not previously been addressed by the Executive Nominations process,” wrote Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley.
Smith, a former Baltimore County councilman and Circuit Court judge, was appointed transportation secretary in on May 29, 2013. Prior to that, he served from 2002 -2010 as Baltimore County executive.
Brinkley’s concern is not unfounded. In 2006, Smith created the Baltimore County Victory Slate campaign committee. Through that account, Smith legally transferred more than $450,000 of his own campaign cash to Scott Shellenberger, who successfully campaigned for the office of Baltimore County State’s Attorney.
There had been speculation that Smith might use some of the money to assist Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in his gubernatorial bid; Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who faces a tough re-election campaign after a zoning decision that benefited Greenberg Gibbons—a client of Smith at the time; and Carin Smith, the wife of Baltimore County attorney Michael Paul Smith, the transportation secretary’s son.
According to the most recent campaign finance report filed Jan. 15 with the Maryland State Board of Elections, Smith has not raised, spent or transferred money since being appointed to his current position. Ten days before the appointment, Smith did spend $19,500 on a poll of Maryland voters conducted by DC-based pollster Peter D. Hart.
Smith, in a letter sent Thursday to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, wrote: “I have not and will not make any contributions from it during this term as secretary.
“Had I known this issue was going to be raised, I certainly would have met with anyone concerned about it. Most recently I spoke with Senator Brinkley and assured him that my dormant campaign account is a non-issue,” Smith wrote.
Brinkley said he planned on introducing legislation in the coming days that would establish legal guidelines for addressing the issue of appointees who maintain campaign accounts.