Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, then a state senator in a tough campaign for the job she long coveted, turned to fellow University of Maryland Medical System Board of Directors for an influx of cash as voting started in the 2016 Democratic primary for mayor.
Pugh received $200,000 in loans from fellow UMMS board members in mid-April of that year. Additionally, 13 board members, as well as UMMS employees serving in ex officio capacities on the board, and their spouses contributed nearly $37,000 to Pugh between June 2015 and April 2016, records show. Those donations ranged in size from $100 to $6,000.
Pugh and some of those same board members are now the focus of an outside audit over questionable financial dealings that emerged in the wake of Sen. Jill P. Carter’s bill subjecting the system’s board of directors to tougher disclosures and ethics regulations. Gov. Larry Hogan signed her bill into law on Thursday.
Pugh, who is on a medical leave from the mayor’s job, also appears to be under investigation by the state prosecutor and the city inspector general for getting $500,000 from UMMS for her self-published “Healthy Holly” book series.
Three UMMS board members, including Pugh have resigned; four board members have taken a leave of absence; and UMMS CEO and President Robert Chrencik also has taken a leave.
All of the campaign donations or loans to Pugh from UMMS board members, except for one, were in accordance with Maryland law, which limits campaign contributions to $6,000 per campaign finance entity and $24,000 in total for an election cycle, according to Maryland’s Board of Elections.
The biggest influx of cash into Pugh’s campaign came in the form of loans made between April 14 and April 20 of 2016. Early voting started on April 14 and finished on April 21, with the last ballots cast on primary day on April 26.
Pugh’s campaign borrowed $50,000 from UMMS board member Walter A. Tilley Jr., CEO of Home Paramount Pest Control, the day early voting started.
Board chairman Stephen A. Burch loaned Pugh $50,000 on April 18. Another board member, former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith, via his Baltimore County Victory Slate, loaned Pugh $100,000. That loan was later determined to violate campaign finance laws because Pugh was not listed as a member of the slate, which according to state campaign finance records, was fined $3,000 on Jan. 23, 2017, for the infraction.
Smith, who worked at City Hall as Pugh’s chief of strategic alliances, resigned his position earlier this month.
Some supporters of former Mayor Sheila Dixon believe the loans made the difference in the election. After the first two days of early voting it was reported that Pugh’s campaign faced questions about the ethics of offering residents meals, $100 to do campaign work and then using buses to take those residents to vote early.
“When the Pugh campaign flooded the streets with cash at the beginning of early vote, we were stunned. Huge sums of cash were used to buy votes — paying people, feeding them and promising them a job in exchange for getting on a bus and voting for Cathy Pugh. When you look at the election results, the votes she banked with that illegal campaign money absolutely made the difference in the race against Sheila Dixon,” Martha McKenna, a longtime Dixon aide, said in an email.
Election results show Pugh led early voting, garnering 13,047 votes to Dixon’s 9,445. On Election Day, however, Dixon’s campaign rallied earning 34,070 votes to Pugh’s 33,055. Pugh won the primary by about 2,400 votes.
Loans were not the only way the Pugh, who served on the board starting in 2001, received campaign funding from UMMS board members.
University of Maryland Medical System CEO Robert Chrencik made a $1,000 donation to Pugh on April 18. Chrencik made two prior donations in the lead up to the primary election of $1,000 on Oct. 26, 2015, and Jan. 6, 2016. He also made a $1,000 contribution to Pugh shortly after the primary on June 30, 2016.
In the year leading up to the primary election, Burch made campaign contributions of $1,000 on June 5, 2015, and $5,000 on Sept. 29. He continued donating money after the primary, giving the mayor’s campaign $4,000 on Dec. 14, 2018 and Jan. 2, 2019.
Walter A. Tilley Jr. and his wife, Nancy, made large contributions to Pugh as well. Four months before the primary election Pugh received a $4,000 check from Walter A. Tilley Jr. on Nov. 23, 2015. As the primary grew near, on March 14, 2016, Pugh accepted a check for $6,000 from Nancy Tilley.
Board member John P. Coale, a politically connected attorney and husband of television personality Greta Van Susteren, made two donations in the run-up to the 2016 primary totaling $5,000 to Pugh. Coale gave the campaign $1,000 on Sept. 29, 2015, and $4,000 on April 1.
UMMS board member Francis X. Kelly, a former state senator and founder of the Baltimore County-based KELLY insurance firm, donated $6,000 to Pugh’s campaign on Oct. 26, 2015, the day he and his wife hosted a fundraiser for Pugh at their home. Kelly also appeared in a video endorsement of Pugh.
“There’s too much talk of racism going on now. I think what we need more than ever is people of all races, religions, colors of skin have got to work together. The word racism has got to be erased from our vocabulary,” Kelly said in the video, which was pulled off Pugh’s campaign site but remains on YouTube. “I think Catherine is really positioned to do all those things, and that takes leadership and surrounding yourself with the right people to get those things done.”
The law reforming the board, which Hogan signed Thursday, requires board members to begin resigning on July 1. Another 30 percent of the board now must step down in Oct. 1, and the final group must leave the board by Jan. 1.
Current members who want to stay on must reapply. Hogan and the Senate are under no obligation to keep current board members who do ask for their positions back.
Kelly, Tilley and Chrencik have all been placed on leave while the investigation into potential self-dealing continues, and two other members, who did not make campaign donations, were also placed on leave. UMMS denied a request to review dates of board meetings, meeting attendance, and minutes from those meetings.
“As there is an independent review underway; it would be inappropriate to discuss specific Board relationships or comment on specific elements of the review until all facts and recommendations are disclosed and presented to Maryland’s legislative leaders,” according to a statement issued via email by a UMMS spokesman.