Dixon campaign finance reports under scrutiny – Baltimore Sun

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State prosecutors have been asked to examine the campaign finance reports of Sheila Dixon, the former Baltimore mayor who is seeking to reclaim the office in this year’s election.

A State Board of Elections official said he asked the office of the Maryland State Prosecutor to examine Dixon’s campaign finances last month after receiving a complaint from Baltimore Rising, a Howard County-based organization that has created a website featuring anti-Dixon content.

The complaint centers on 17 amendments the Dixon campaign made last year to her campaign finance reports. The amendments belatedly detailed spending nearly $200,000 no longer in her account, though some spending remains unexplained, the website alleges.

“We’re not suggesting for a moment that the committee or Ms. Dixon did anything wrong,” the site states. “The data are just interesting for their insight into the finances of a significant, troubled candidate and the continuing operations of her campaign committee even when she wasn’t running for office.”

Dixon resigned as mayor in 2010 after being convicted on a misdemeanor count of embezzlement for using gift cards intended for needy children. She was prohibited from running for elected office until her two-year probation ended. The former mayor was charged after an investigation by the Maryland State Prosecutor, the same office now asked to review her campaign records.

The Dixon campaign says the amendments were the result of a data transfer error that, once corrected, had a compounding effect, forcing amendments to a series of older reports. Dixon campaign spokeswoman Martha McKenna said the mistakes were caused by software issues. But, McKenna said, the mayoral front-runner did nothing wrong and worked hard to fix the problems.

“It’s maddening to me that Baltimore Rising, a group that … can take unlimited contributions and does not disclose any of their donors, is leveling these charges against the one candidate they’ve trained their sights on,” said McKenna. She said Dixon went “out of her way to make sure all of these reports were cleaned up.”

McKenna said the group, a nonprofit, should have to register as a political action committee and disclose its donors, given its negative campaigning.

Baltimore Rising raised complaints about multiple amendments the Dixon campaign filed early last year to campaign finance reports dating to 2006.

The group had questions about campaign finance reports Dixon filed from 2007 to 2010 and amended in reports filed last year, said Jared DeMarinis, director of the Maryland State Board of Elections campaign finance division.

DeMarinis said his office forwarded the questions to Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt. A spokesman for Davitt said the office would neither confirm nor deny that it was undertaking a review.

“Normally, the process is if we get a complaint about campaign finance, the audit team would take a look at it,” DeMarinis said. But given that the period in question includes the years Davitt’s predecessor had investigated Dixon, he said it made more sense to refer the complaint to the prosecutor.

Dixon’s resignation resulted in then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s becoming mayor. Rawlings-Blake is not seeking re-election this year. Dixon, 62, is leading the polls in the crowded, 13-member Democratic primary race. The primary election is April 26.

McKenna said Dixon campaign officials noticed problems with the reports when they tried to transfer forms to a new software system — and realized that not all of the information transferred. She said several other campaigns, including that of fellow mayoral candidate Catherine E. Pugh, a state senator, have had to file amendments to their forms around the same time.

McKenna said the campaign worked diligently to fix errors in the data and met with DeMarinis about the issue.

“It created a very messy situation,” she said. “Amendments from that period were very common. There were glitches in the system. … The reports were fixed. The reporting errors were corrected.”

DeMarinis said he agreed that making amendments to campaign finance reports is common practice. “Making amendments and correcting errors is not uncommon,” he said. “In fact, we want that.”

McKenna said she takes issue with Baltimore Rising’s accusations. She said Dixon has been under attack from big-money groups since declaring her candidacy for mayor. In addition to Baltimore Rising, a political action committee called Clean Slate Baltimore has been running negative ads about Dixon — including one around Christmas comparing her to the Grinch.

The anti-Dixon PAC was founded by Alexander M. Sanchez, who used to employ lawyer Elizabeth Embry, a rival to Dixon in the mayoral race, when he worked for former Gov. Martin O’Malley. Sanchez was also former chief of staff to Rawlings-Blake, who has clashed with Dixon.

Clean Slate Baltimore has denied supporting any individual candidate.

Also this week, the chief fundraiser for Councilman Nick J. Mosby’s mayoral campaign acknowledged purchasing the website SheilaDixonForBaltimore.com. A spokesman for Colleen Martin-Lauer — who also raises money for O’Malley — said the campaign does not intend to publish material on the site.

Doni Glover, a Dixon supporter who hosts a radio show on WOLB-AM, says attacks coming from groups whose backers are unclear should concern Baltimoreans.

“It should bother anyone with a conscience,” he said. “Prior to last spring, [Dixon] wondered whether she wanted to go through this campaign to have her name smeared again. But everywhere she goes — and I’ve followed her for about four years now — somebody encourages her to run. She’s not perfect. She’s not Jesus. But she has a real passion for serving people.”

Baltimore Rising’s website says its goal is to educate voters about the city’s problems and “encourage voters to elect officials who will manage an aggressively pro-jobs, pro-growth, business-friendly city government,” the website states.

The site is managed by Les Cohen, a Howard County writer who declined to comment about his analysis of Dixon’s amendments to campaign finance reports.

According to the analysis, Dixon’s reports “were amended to reduce by $195,830 the amount of cash that the committee claimed to have on hand,” the post states. Still, the post states, “$34,775 of the $195,830 remains unexplained.”

Dixon campaign finance reports under scrutiny – Baltimore Sun}