Supporters of Democrat Douglas F. Gansler's campaign for governor sued Thursday to block rival Anthony G. Brown's running mate from raising money during the 90-day General Assembly session that starts next month.
Lawyer Daniel M. Clements, who backs Gansler's campaign for the Democratic nomination, filed suit in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court against Maryland State Elections Board chief Linda H. Lamone, Brown and his running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. The suit seeks to invalidate the board's ruling that Ulman — as a county officeholder — is not covered by a fundraising moratorium that applies to state officials while the legislature is meeting.
Brown, as lieutenant governor, and Gansler, as Maryland attorney general, are both covered by the ban — as is Gansler's running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George's County.
But Lamone ruled Dec. 19 that Ulman can continue to raise money for his own campaign committee during the legislative session, which runs from Jan. 8 to April 7. The Brown campaign has said Ulman's fundraising activities will be kept separate from the overall Brown-Ulman effort, though any money Ulman takes in could be spent to promote the ticket in the June 24 primary.
Maryland law prevents statewide elected officials and legislators from soliciting or accepting donations during the session — a provision intended to avoid the appearance that campaign gifts are influencing the lawmaking process. A third Democratic candidate, Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County, can continue to raise donations of up to $250 because she is accepting public financing.
The lawsuit Clements filed on behalf of two Maryland voters asks for an injunction barring Ulman from raising money for the ticket and barring Lamone from allowing him to do so. The suit argues that the Brown-Ulman ticket is inseparable and that Ulman would in effect be acting as Brown's agent in raising funds.
"Obviously Brown is raising money through his partner," Clements said. "They're a unit by statute."
In Maryland, unlike many other states, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket — much as candidates from president and vice president do.
Clements said that in filing the suit, he was acting independently of the Gansler campaign.
Bob Wheelock, spokesman for the Gansler campaign, also said the campaign was not involved in the suit but welcomes the legal test.
"I'm no lawyer, but at a minimum it is unethical for their lieutenant governor candidate on their ticket to continue fundraising, and by reading the statute it looks to be illegal," Wheelock said.
Brown's campaign has said that Ulman's fundraising would be kept strictly separate from Brown's during the session and that the lieutenant governor would not be involved. The Brown campaign did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Lamone also did not return calls seeking comment.
The lawsuit raises questions about who will represent the state elections board in court. Normally, the attorney general's office defends state agencies against legal actions. But because of Gansler's run for governor, the assistant attorney general who normally advises the board on legal opinions played no role in deciding the Ulman question. And Gansler has recused himself.
The attorney general's office released a statement saying it does not have a conflict of interest that would prevent it from defending the board, but intends to stay out of the case because "the matter could be seen as directly affecting the attorney general."
The office said it would be "prudent" to let the election board hire outside counsel.
The lawsuit notes that Lamone did not seek the advice of the attorney general's office or outside counsel and accuses her of "contradicting, ignoring and misinterpreting the plain language of the statute."
The same law that has roiled the Democratic race also could have an impact on the Republican contest for governor.
One of the leading GOP candidates, Harford County Executive David R. Craig, is not covered by the 90-day rule. However, his running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway of the Eastern Shore, is prohibited from raising funds.
One of Craig's Republican rivals, state Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County, is covered by the ban. He has not selected a running mate. If he were to choose a partner who is not in the legislature, that person would be able to raise funds independently of George unless the elections board's interpretation of the law is overturned.
Charles County business executive Charles Lollar, an announced Republican candidate, and Change Maryland founder Larry Hogan, who is expected to make his GOP candidacy official next month, are not affected.
Clements said he did not believe Craig would be prevented from raising funds if the lawsuit is successful. He noted that the Harford executive has not yet filed the paperwork making the Craig-Haddaway ticket official. He also said that as the head of the ticket, his position is different from Ulman's.
"Craig's not sending out his henchman to raise money for him," Clements said.