The Democratic Cesspool of Corruption: Baltimore Edition

We’ve told you about the Maryland Democratic Party’s Cesspool of Corruption in recent weeks. The corruption has now encompassed even more of Baltimore City Government:

The Maryland State Prosecutor is accusing a political slate funded by former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. of making an “unlawful” loan to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh during her primary campaign.

An investigator with the office has filed a $3,000 fine in Anne Arundel County District Court, charging the Baltimore County Victory Slate with “unlawfully making an impermissible expenditure of a $100,000 loan to the Catherine Pugh committee, as Pugh is not a member of the slate.”

In the final days of her effort to defeat rival Sheila Dixon in April’s Democratic primary, the Pugh campaign took in $315,000 in loans, including $100,000 from the Baltimore County Victory Slate. But Pugh was not entitled to receive the April 20 loan from the slate because she had not joined it, prosecutors said in a civil citation.

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The Baltimore County Victory Slate is funded by Smith’s campaign account. Smith now works as Pugh’s chief of strategic alliances and is paid $175,000 annually. Pugh has repaid the loans.

So just to recap:

  • Former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, who is an insider in the Democratic Party establishment, used his slate to front a loan to Catherine Pugh’s Mayoral campaign;
  • Pugh’s campaign was not entitled to receive the loan because the appropriate paperwork was not filed to allow Pugh to join the slate;
  • Smith was rewarded after the general election with a plush city job by Catherine Pugh.

This is the very textbook definition of buying access into a fat government job and into influence in City Hall. I’m no lawyer, but certainly looks like that Jim Smith may have bribed Catherine Pugh with an illegal loan in order to secure himself  $175,000 a year job helping to run Baltimore City.

The worst part about the illegal loan? It’s the fact that Smith and Pugh should both know better. Both are veteran Democrats who have been on the campaign a few times. Both are part of the Democratic establishment in Annapolis. Smith’s name had been floated as a potential establishment challenger to Peter Franchot in the Democratic primary for Comptroller in 2014 due to the sizable war chest he had remaining from his term as Baltimore County Executive. These are not just two people who wandered into politics and made a mistake; Pugh and Smith had full knowledge that the loan made to Pugh’s campaign was illegal.

Even if the appropriate paperwork were signed, would it make this situation any better? Would the fact that Smith’s loan would have appeared to be a legal bribe instead of appearing to be an illegal bribe made it any better? Would it have changed the fact that it looked like Smith was throwing Pugh a lifeboat in order to secure his own lucrative place in her administration?

No rational person can say that Smith’s loan doesn’t smell like a rat.

The Pugh-Smith kerfuffle would look dubious even outside the current political context. But let us not forget that the guy who kicked off the recent round of Democratic corruption was Gary Brown, Jr. Brown, remember, was about to be appointed to the House of Delegates but his appointment was rescinded after he was indicted for illegal campaign contributions to Pugh’s campaign. And today’s article linked above notes that Brown, who was hired by Pugh to work in the communications office, is still working for Pugh despite his House appointment being rescinded.

It’s very clear the Maryland Democratic Party’s Cesspool of Corruption is not limited to just Annapolis. But that there is a serious and systemic problem with the Pugh Administration in City Hall, and maybe not just limited to Smith’s apparent bribe or Brown’s illegal contributions. Let’s hope that the State Prosecutor continues his investigation into Pugh’s campaign finances, for it certainly seems likely that other such illegal activity may very well be found.

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