The waiting game
Large contribution to county exec candidate's campaign raises even larger concerns
Rushern Baker, a Prince George's County executive candidate, received a $200,000 donation from a committee no one seems to know anything about, and, unfortunately, Baker does not seem compelled to provide details anytime soon.
The campaign contribution the largest for any of the six county executive candidates who have announced so far makes up nearly one-third of the $564,000 in contributions Baker received. The donor, County 1 Now, gave the large sum just eight days after filing as an official committee.
The County 1 Now treasurer has not returned repeated calls from The Gazette, and Baker's spokesperson said no details regarding the donations will be disclosed until Aug. 17, the campaign finance reporting deadline required by state law.
Legally, Baker is on solid ground. Candidates were required by Jan. 20 to disclose financial contributions from last year, which Baker did. County 1 Now didn't surface until Jan. 5.
From the standpoint of government transparency, however, Baker isn't off to a good start. Just because he can delay providing information to the public doesn't mean he should.
When a committee forms just a few days after a disclosure deadline and manages to make a relatively enormous campaign contribution just eight days later, questions are bound to be raised.
A Baker spokesman previously told The Gazette that he was working on providing the list of County 1 Now donors. This week, however, he said the information would have to wait and said critics were making "a mountain out of a molehill." Later, speaking of County 1 Now, he added, "I really don't know those folks."
The source of the contributions could range from a large number of individual contributors to hefty corporate donations, or both, all of which would be of interest to voters.
Political watchdog group Common Cause says the contribution reveals an election law problem: infrequent contribution disclosures. If reports were required more often, voters would get information more quickly about supporters of those seeking powerful positions.
Election officials should definitely consider changing the rules, but this time it's a technicality that Baker, a former state delegate who has twice run unsuccessfully for county executive, can easily resolve by simply providing a list of names.
Baker and his major sponsor or sponsors will need to decide whether their ability to delay providing information is worth the public trust he could lose by waiting.