Complaint Filed With State Board Alleges Floreen Campaign Violated State Finance Law

Complaint Filed With State Board Alleges Floreen Campaign Violated State Finance Law

A Gaithersburg man claims multiple, large donations came from entities with common ownership

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Gaithersburg resident Ken Myers speaks at a Tuesday press conference outside the Montgomery County Board of Elections headquarters in Gaithersburg.

Bethany Rodgers

 

A Gaithersburg resident has filed a complaint alleging Nancy Floreen’s campaign for Montgomery County executive has violated state campaign finance law by accepting multiple contributions from entities with common ownership.

Surrounded by progressive advocates at a Tuesday press conference in Gaithersburg, Ken Myers said he wants to force Floreen to return thousands of dollars in developer donations that he believes run afoul of state contribution limits.

“This is a clear violation and a clear example of the fact this campaign is being run in an undemocratic fashion,” Myers said, noting that Floreen bypassed the primary by petitioning her way onto the ballot as an independent. “And now here we are. She is taking as much money as she possibly can—and more than she possibly can—from developers.”

Myers said he is a member of the group Progressive Maryland and voted for Democratic county executive candidate Marc Elrich in the June 26 primary. However, he said he filed the complaint with the Maryland State Board of Elections as a concerned resident and not as a supporter of Elrich, who won the party’s nomination.

Floreen said she learned Tuesday of Myers’ allegations against her campaign finance committee.

“To my knowledge, everything we do has been in compliance with state law. If the board of elections tells us we have a problem, we will do whatever the board of elections tells us to do,” she said.

Floreen, Elrich and Republican Robin Ficker will face off in the Nov. 6 general election, vying to replace County Executive Ike Leggett, who is completing his third term. Leggett, who is now prohibited from running again because of term limits, announced in 2016 he would not run for re-election.

The complaint submitted Tuesday to the state elections board focuses on donations totaling $57,000, or about 17 percent of the money Floreen reported gathering between July 2 and Aug. 21. In four cases, entities sharing the same address wrote checks that collectively exceeded the $6,000 legal limit for contributions to a candidate in a single election cycle, Myers alleges.

Floreen’s campaign filings show:

  • On July 11, Guardian Realty Investment LLLP and Guardian Fund II-A Operating LLC each donated $6,000 for a total of $12,000. The listed address for both is 6000 Executive Blvd., Suite 400, North Bethesda.
  • On July 11, Montgomery 1936 Land Co. LLC, LDG Inc. and Acorn LLC each donated $3,000 for a total of $9,000. The listed address for the entities is 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 200, Silver Spring, an address also shared by Lee Development Group.
  • On July 18, The Donohoe Cos. Inc. and OB 4800 Montgomery LLC each donated $6,000 for a total of $12,000. The listed address is 7101 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 700, Bethesda.
  • On Aug. 2, Park Potomac Condominium (Venture) 1 LLC and Park Potomac Condominium (Venture) 2 LLC each donated $3,000, while Silver Spring Metro Center LLLP, SSMC III Limited Partnership and SSMC IV, LP each donated $6,000 for a total of $24,000. The listed address for the five entities is 12435 Park Potomac Ave., No. 200, Potomac, an address shared by the development firm Foulger-Pratt.

For entities with common ownership of 80 percent or greater, campaign contributions are considered as coming from a single donor and must collectively stay below the $6,000 threshold, according to state campaign finance law. Myers points to the donors’ shared offices and the fact that the contributions were made on the same date as evidence that these companies are controlled by the same individuals or business entities. If Myers is correct in his analysis of Floreen’s finance report, her campaign took in $33,000 above the permissible limit in these four cases.

Representatives of the groups Progressive Maryland and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500, both of which endorsed Elrich in the six-way Democratic primary, spoke alongside Myers during the press conference at the Montgomery County Board of Elections headquarters.

Progressive Maryland Executive Director Larry Stafford said he is troubled both by the potential violation described in Myers’ complaint and by the amount of money that real estate interests have been pouring into Floreen’s campaign coffers.

“Their interest in the community is largely driven by how can they profit from the community. It’s not necessarily driven by the greater good of the community,” Stafford said. ”

Floreen said she’s received donations from all people in walks of life and from all corners of Montgomery County.

“All of whom are deeply invested in Montgomery County, and all of whom care deeply about the future of Montgomery County,” she said of her donors. “That includes people who are in business. … People who are in the nonprofit community, people who create places, people who create great homes in our community and people who employ a lot of people in well-paying jobs.”

Floreen is positioned to benefit from unlimited corporate contributions with the recent creation of a super PAC chaired by developer Charles K. Nulsen III. The County Above Party PAC is prohibited from coordinating directly with Floreen’s campaign but can pay for mailers and advertising that supports her candidacy.

Nulsen said he helped form the super PAC in direct response to the existence of the Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC led by Stafford and backed by labor unions. During the primary, the progressive super PAC worked in opposition to Democratic county executive candidate David Blair, a Potomac businessman who lost the party nomination to Elrich by a mere 77 votes.

“The business community’s concern is that this will happen again for Nancy, who we are supporting,” Nulsen said Tuesday. “So we’ve formed a PAC to balance the money machine that the unions have put together.”

The progressive super PAC has not taken a position in the general election race for county executive.

Nulsen said many business leaders believe Elrich sits on the extreme left and think Floreen would bring “a more balanced, centrist approach to running the county.”

Elrich did not return a call requesting comment, but he has said he and Floreen have largely voted the same way during their time on the council. They do part ways over growth issues, he has said, adding that he believes developers should take on more responsibility for improving transportation networks and schools.

Also speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, Robert Lipman of the MoCo Voters advocacy group criticized Floreen because she was using a traditional approach to campaign financing rather than the county’s new public funding option. Both Elrich and Ficker have enrolled in the public option, which provides them with matching county funds so long as they agree to follow certain fundraising restrictions. Publicly funded candidates are limited to receiving donations of $150 or smaller from individuals and must reject contributions from corporations, unions or political action committees.

“Nancy Floreen should not be taking the low road to the highest office in this county,” Lipman said.

Floreen was not eligible to participate in the public financing system because she launched her county executive campaign after the enrollment deadline had already passed. But Myers doesn’t give her a pass on that account, pointing out she chose to get involved in the race after the June primary.

Floreen, a four-term council member who was prohibited from running for re-election due to term limits, has said she had no plans to enter the county executive race until Elrich captured the Democratic party nomination. Alarmed by the prospect of Elrich succeeding Leggett, she switched her party affiliation from Democrat to independent and began staging her bid for the post.

A state elections board official Tuesday confirmed the office had received a complaint against Floreen’s campaign. However, Jared DeMarinis, the agency’s director of candidacy and campaign finance, was not available to comment.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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