Updated: Floreen Files Complaint With State Board of Elections Over Opposition PAC Contribution

Updated: Floreen Files Complaint With State Board of Elections Over Opposition PAC Contribution

Campaign says $20,000 transfer violates state law

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Nancy Floreen

File photo

Independent Montgomery County executive candidate Nancy Floreen has filed a complaint with the Maryland State Board of Elections alleging that a political action committee opposing her candidacy accepted a contribution from another PAC that was above what is permitted under state law.

Montgomery Neighbors, a PAC that has been sending mailers to voters aimed at highlighting developer contributions made to Floreen’s campaign, accepted a $20,000 contribution on Oct. 17 from a PAC that is supporting one of her opponents in the race, Democrat Marc Elrich, according to campaign finance records. Republican Robin Ficker is also running for county executive.

According to the state elections board’s campaign finance database, Empower PAC is a Washington, D.C.-based PAC that supports progressive candidates at the local and national level, but is officially registered in Delaware.

In the complaint, filed late Friday, Floreen’s campaign chair Sally Sternbach noted Maryland election law requires PACs registered in the state to only accept contributions of up to $6,000 from out-of-state PACs, and to report such contributions to the elections board within 48 hours. The campaign finance report for Montgomery Neighbors was filed Oct. 25, which was more than one week after the transaction.

“We hereby request the Board take appropriate action immediately to address what appears to be a clear violation of Maryland campaign finance law,” Sternbach wrote in the complaint.

With the Nov. 6 general election now less than two weeks away, Montgomery Neighbors has been sending mailers that state Floreen is “The Development Industry’s Choice for Montgomery County Executive” and label her “90% Nancy,” a nickname based on the percentage of  the total amount of contributions she has received that appear to have come from developers. The mailers include a photo of Floreen juxtaposed against a background of $100 bills. According to the elections board database, Montgomery Neighbors spent nearly $27,000 on the mailers.

On its website, Empower PAC lists a number of candidates it supports, including Elrich. Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, is also listed with his running mate, Susan Turnbull.

Empower PAC also lists workers’ rights as one of its primary causes on the website, and lists a number of unions as resources including the AFL-CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), both of which have endorsed Elrich. Empower PAC’s treasurer, according to the site, is Gino Renne, who is the president of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents the majority of the county’s workforce, and has endorsed Elrich. Renne could not be reached for comment Friday.

Montgomery Neighbors spokesman Eric Hensal said in an interview with Bethesda Beat Sunday that the PAC’s staff realized they made in mistake in not registering as a Super PAC, which would have meant that they could have accepted contributions with no monetary limits. He said they alerted the board of elections of their mistake and asked about changing their registration status, but were told they were not allowed to do so. Hensal said the PAC then decided to file a campaign finance report anyway, since PACs are required to report contributions before Oct. 26.

“We’re not gonna hide from the fact that we made a mistake,” he said

Hensal said the PAC is prepared to comply with any sanctions the board of elections imposes. He said he is not sure if Montgomery Neighbors will try again to re-register as a Super PAC or raise more money between now and the election.

“We’re trying to figure out how we want to handle the PAC,” he said.

[For more information on the candidates and others running in the Nov. 6 general election, check out the Bethesda Beat 2018 Voters’ Guide.]

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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