GUEST COLUMN: Campaign slates obfuscating election process in Anne Arundel County

| September 7, 2018
Rams Head
John R. Leopold

John R. Leopold

Being a target of a political campaign slate attack flyer is like facing diamondback rattlesnake with a silencer on the rattle. Slates, which allow for unlimited transfers of campaign funds from a slate member’s campaign committee to a slate, are antithetical to the purposes of campaign spending reform. When campaign attack flyers funded by slates do not identify the candidate or candidates supporting the attack flyers or the specific donors to the campaign committees that are funding the flyers, slates obfuscate campaign accountability and transparency.

In my recent primary election campaign, for example, the House 2018 VictorSlate sent out attack flyers shortly before the election falsely stating that I compelled county taxpayers t o pay the legal bills in a civil case for mcriminal activity,” There was, in fact, no “criminal activityin this civil case, and I had been dismissed as a defendant in this case by the U.S. District Court. Attack flyers are part of the sharp elbows and rough and tumble of political campaigns that I’ve witnessed for many years, but it is important for voters to see who is making and funding the attacks. It is usually the case that the candidate who bases his or her campaign on anonymously attacking an opponent is admitting that he or she could not win a campaign based on the issues. Moreover, when campaign slates are able to hide the identity of the accusers and the beneficiaries of last-minute attack flyers, the candidates being attacked have no meaningful, effective way to adequately respond to the attacks before an election.

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One elected official, State Sen . Bryan Simonaire, who vigorously supported my opponents in the recent primary election, stated five years ago that I should “be forgiven for (my) misdeeds and remembered for the good things (I) did for our county over the decades (I) served.” When Simonaire started hearing the footsteps of a potential political  adversary, the compassion he hoped would appeal to my supporters was replaced with spiteful disapproval . Simonaire also stated publicly that I was responsible for the legal costs and any court awarded judgments against the county “if and only if (l)was found guilty of the allegations ” in the civil case highlighted in the attack flyer. He has known for years that there was no guilty verdict returned against me in this case and that I was dismissed as a defendant in the case by the federal court . Incredibly, in spite of the established facts , my opponents defamed me by sending out attack mailings that claimed that I made the taxpayers pay “hundreds c)f thousands of dollars in legal bills” associated with this case .

The two major donors to the House 2018 Victory Slate each contributed more than $32,000 to the slate . These large donations eviscerate the $6 ,000 contribution per candidate limit and essentially empower two politicians to have an inordinate, outsized impact on the outcomes of local races . The candidates who are the beneficiaries of anonymous campaign flyers will disingenuously claim that they are running a “positivecampaign, when, in fact, their campaign is knee-deep in gutter politics. A candidates record of mistakes and misjudgments is certainly fair game, but there is no honoor integrity in running a campaign based on malicious defamation.

While I will not be able to introduce legislation in the General Assembly next year to limit donations to campaign slates at $6,000, I hope that a legislator will pick up the baton and do so.

-John R. Leopold, Former Anne Arundel County Executive, Former Maryland State Delegate

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