City Council Candidate Alleges 2009 Campaign Finance Violations
Moore wants the city's election board to look at a law limiting campaign contributions from spouses, says Newton violated the law in 2009.
A candidate for Rockville City Council says that a city law limiting campaign contributions by candidates’ spouses is not being followed and that a sitting council member and political opponent violated the law during the 2009 election cycle.
“It is generally believed that candidates’ spouses are exempt from Rockville’s $1,000-per-camapaign limit,” Tom Moore wrote in a letter sent Monday to David Celeste, chairman of the city’s Board of Supervisors of Elections. “The City Clerk’s office has given such guidance in the past. A close reading of the Code, however, reveals that this is simply not the case [emphasis Moore’s]. Under current Rockville law, any contribution exceeding $1,000 from a candidate’s spouse to his or her campaign is illegal.”
The Board of Supervisors of Elections is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. on Thursday at City Hall. Moore’s letter will be discussed in a closed session under a closed meeting provision for obtaining legal advice, Acting City Clerk Brenda F. Bean said.
Moore, the chairman of the city’s Compensation Commission and an unsuccessful candidate for council in 2009, said in an interview that he recently discovered the difference between the law and the practice while reviewing materials distributed to all candidates for city office. A review of campaign spending from the 2009 election turned up something more, he said.
“This is not a theoretical problem,” Moore wrote. “During the 2009 Rockville election cycle, now-Councilmember Bridget Newton reported total campaign receipts of $12,105.91. Of that, a total of $4,120.50 was provided by her husband, Fred Newton, in the form of what Councilmember Newton reported as ‘in-kind’ contributions to her campaign for items such as postage and campaign materials.
“Simply put, Fred Newton’s $4,120.50 in contributions to Bridget Newton’s 2009 city council campaign violated Rockville City law,” Moore wrote.
Reached Tuesday evening, Newton said that she was surprised by the allegation and had not yet seen the letter.
“If we did something it was a very innocent mistake,” she said.
Moore wrote in the letter that, “The violation was almost certainly inadvertent but is a violation nonetheless.”
The city code states that "Personal expenses of the candidate for filing fees, telegrams, telephoning, travel, and board, shall not be considered contributions if paid for by the candidate or his spouse."
It also includes a provision that "The contributions of a candidate or his spouse to the candidate's own campaign are not subject to the limitations," described in another subsection of the code, "but must pass through the hands of the candidate's treasurer and be reported as required in other provisions in this article."
The subsection of the code referred to as "not subject to the limitations" has to do with "volunteering time and personal vehicle" to a campaign, Moore argues in his letter. It does not refer to campaign contributions, he wrote.
The belief among candidates that spouses are exempt from contribution limits has been furthered by the city clerk’s office, Moore said in an interview on Tuesday.
“If you called the city clerk’s office on Monday morning and asked them, they would’ve said spouses are exempt,” he said.
Bean, who received a copy of Moore’s letter, said the line stating that the clerk’s office had said spouses are exempt from contribution limits “really jumped out at me.”
“No city clerk I’ve ever worked with has dispensed that information,” said Bean, a 23-year employee of the city with the city attorney’s office and then the clerk’s office.
Moore said that he did not review every candidate’s financial records.
“I didn’t do an extensive, exhaustive survey,” he said. “I looked at Bridget’s because she spent an extraordinary amount of money and I wanted to see where it came from and where it went.”
The $4,120.50 in campaign contributions from Fred Newton to his wife’s campaign appears in a Dec. 3, 2009 campaign finance report. The report lists the contributions going to pay for signs, cake, a website, T-shirts, a banner, postage and more than $2,100 for “campaign materials.”
Newton’s post-election report, filed in November 2010, showed $12,105 in expenditures for the 2009 election cycle.
Moore reported spending $6,302 for the 2009 election, including $3,295 for “campaign materials.”
Newton was the top vote-getter in the 2009 City Council election, garnering 14.9 percent of the vote (3,390 votes). Moore finished seventh in the field of 10 council candidates in 2009, garnering 9.62 percent of the vote (2,186 votes).
The top four vote-getters are elected to the council.
Moore, a former litigator who now works for a legal consulting firm, said that he was not taking a position on whether the city should allow unlimited contributions from spouses.
“If we do have [unlimited contributions], we have to have better disclosure,” he said.
Candidates’ spouses should be required to file the same disclosure forms that apply to spouses of city employees and spouses of people serving on city boards and commissions, he said.
The first campaign finance reports for the 2011 election cycle—covering the period through Sept. 30—are due on Thursday. Elections for mayor and four council seats are Nov. 8. Newton is seeking reelection.
It is important that the city resolve the spousal contribution issue for this election cycle, Moore said.
“It has been suggested to me that given my own status as a candidate for Rockville City Council this year, I should perhaps leave this issue for others to bring to the Board’s attention,” he wrote. “I disagree. It is I, my wife, and my fellow candidates and their spouses who are at risk until this statute is corrected. I therefore believe it is properly my role to highlight this problem with Rockville’s code.”
Moore said he hopes the Board of Supervisors of Elections will act on his request. Moreover, he expects it.
“This is something that Rockville boards and commissions take very seriously,” Moore said. “I think there’s zero chance that they’re just going to blow it off.”