State election officials say campaign finance law does not require Montgomery County to disclose money it has spent supporting a local referendum.
Using its website, fliers and public service announcements, the county is urging residents to vote in next month’s election to uphold a recent law that alters bargaining rights for police officers.
After receiving an inquiry on the subject this week, the State Board of Elections examined whether the county needed to register as a campaign entity — such as a ballot issue committee — to run such ads, according to Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance for the board.
After consulting with the attorney general’s office, the board concluded that the election law provisions governing ballot issue committees and independent expenditures don’t apply to government entities, said Ross Goldstein, the board’s deputy administrator.
The government has a right to support its policies and is under no obligation to remain silent on the ballot issue, said Patrick Lacefield, a county spokesman.
A letter from County Attorney Marc Hansen, written in September, declares that “the county is entitled to engage in speech supporting or explaining its policies, including speech that advocates support of a ballot measure.”
The county engaged in similar speech on another ballot issue two years ago and had consulted with the attorney general’s office then, Lacefield said.
Jane Milne, secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, said in an email that the county “is clearly using taxpayer dollars, on-the-clock employees and government resources to campaign in a contested election. It is our belief that no other entity in Maryland could contribute to such a campaign without complying with the law.”
David Paulson, a spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, said that initial reports that an investigation into the county’s spending had been requested were inaccurate.
DeMarinis said he had received a separate complaint from the Montgomery County chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police regarding the website of the county’s elections board, which linked to the county government website, but said the state board had found nothing improper.
Montgomery County voters will decide Nov. 6 if a bill passed unanimously by the Montgomery County Council in 2011 becomes law and alters bargaining for police.
If upheld, the law removes the right of the police union to “effects bargaining,” or bargaining over management decisions that do not involve salaries, benefits or working conditions.
Staff Writer Kate Alexander contributed to this report.