State Board of Elections officials said Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan did not violate campaign finance laws related to fundraising and polling conducted by his Change Maryland Organization.
In a memo to the Maryland State Board of Elections, Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the board, wrote that expenditures made by Change Maryland on behalf of Hogan were part of an exploratory committee. The memo was written in response to a May complaint filed by two of Hogan’s Republican primary rivals.
Hogan is the sole owner of Change Maryland, a group that was formed in May 2011 as an political advocacy organization that was a forerunner of Hogan’s gubernatorial bid.
The organization raised money between 2011 and 2014. Money raised was used to pay for reports on energy policies of Gov. Martin J. O’Malley as well as relationships between O’Malley and state contractors who contributed money to the Democratic Governor’s Association at the same time he served as chairman.
The group also paid to conduct a survey to determine if Hogan would be a viable candidate in the 2014 campaign for governor.
Two Republican candidates for governor—Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Anne Arundel County Del. Ronald A. George— filed a joint complaint in May with the state board alleging that the relationship between Change Maryland and the Hogan campaign violated state laws regulating coordination and cooperation between an independent organization and a candidate. The pair also alleged that Change Maryland should be required to disclose contributors and those contributions should count against Hogan’s fundraising limits.
“With a significant amount of transferred assets including the “Hogan media outlet” and the current violation pertaining to the Change Maryland LLC website, we contend that there has been a failure to comply with the ‘coordination and cooperation’ memo, a failure to disclose donations and expenditures pertaining to the campaign, and and what may amount to accepting donations that exceed campaign limits as described by the Maryland Campaign Finance Law Summary Guide.” Craig and George wrote in May.
“Since Mr. Hogan officially became a candidate after the survey, the survey must be viewed as a way for an individual to explore or ‘test the waters’ for a potential candidacy, DeMarinis wrote in his memo.
State law does not recognize the existence of exploratory committees but the Office of the Attorney General has opined that some exploratory activities for individuals who have not officially filed as candidates. They are limited to raising and spending money for surveys, polls, mailings and other activities to determine if a candidate is viable.
“Change Maryland did engage in exploratory activities for the benefit of Mr. Hogan,” DeMarinis wrote. “In addition, Change Maryland’s activities during the September 2013 to January 2014 time frame were consistent with its stated company’s purpose.”