Brandon Scott – Laundering Campaign Contributions

Brandon Scott
Councilman for District 2, Now President of the City Council
Candidate for Mayor of Baltimore
Launderer of Contributions to Circumvent Campaign Financing Law

Brandon Scott, President of the Baltimore City Council, Democratic Candidate for Mayor

We all have an interest in improving election law to reduce the influence of money on primary and general elections.

In the course of figuring out what changes to advocate for campaign financing law, we’ve been looking at contributions received by the five leading candidates for Mayor of Baltimore. In
alphabetical order, they are Sheila Dixon, Mary Miller, Brandon Scott, Thiru Vignarajah and Jack Young. Contributions data are readily available at the Maryland Board of Elections website.

Studying these data on Excel spreadsheets is a tedious process from which nothing all that surprising showed up in our review of four of the five candidates. In every case, there was a high dependence upon large dollar contributors and/or personal wealth. Nothing new there. The one exception was what we noticed about the campaign contributions to People for Brandon M. Scott.

Keep in mind that our review of campaign contributions isn’t just for the current election cycle. We’re not just looking at contributions for this election. We’ve gone back to the beginning of the campaign committees and looked at the full history of contributions for what they can tell us about campaign financing and the candidates.

1. Principal sources of funding.

The first thing we did was look at the distribution of contributions by their size. In Maryland, the legal limit for contributions to a single candidate during a given election cycle is $6000. Not $6000 per year, but per election cycle, so every four years in the race for Mayor of Baltimore.

Mr. Scott’s campaign committee’s contributions data began on March 21, 2011 and continued through April 21, 2020 which is the date of his campaign’s most recent filing. Over those nine years…

– Since its inception, Mr. Scott’s campaign received 2083 contributions totaling $1,249,802.

– 640 of those contributions – which is 31% of total number of contributions received – were for $500 or more, totaling 88.67% of total dollars contributed.

– 385 of those contributions – which is just 18% of total number of contributions received – were for $1000 or more, totaling 78.25% of total dollars contributed. And many of those contributions were from the same people or companies – including different people and companies who share the same address. The actual number of unrelated large dollar contributors is significantly less than 385.

Most of Mr. Scott’s constituents, in Council District 2 and now citywide, cannot afford and do not make contributions of $500 or more. Who cares? Well, whenever you see percentages as high as 88.67% and then 78.25% of total dollars contributed coming from a much smaller percentage of the total number of contributions, it’s important that voters ask…

– “Whose calls will a Mayor Scott return first?”

– “Whose problems will he work hardest to resolve?”

– “For whom will he actually work when he is sitting behind his desk in the Mayor’s office at City Hall?”

– “What influence will these high dollar contributors have over his policies and programs?”

Alright, so his attempts to get elected and stay in office have been financed by a relatively small number of people and companies to whom he can’t help but be beholden. It’s a perfectly legal and all too common reality. Highly problematic, but it’s not what this piece is about.

2. Monthly contributions.

The next thing we did was to produce a table showing the number and amount of contributions from 2011 through the April 21 filing, by month. We were looking for incidences of high contributions to see what, if any, correlation there might be to specific legislation Mr. Scott had introduced or otherwise supported. We found nothing of any particular interest. That’s the good news.

The bad, or at least troublesome news is that, in the process, we saw unusual activity in April, May and June 2018. Unusual in what way?

– In April 2018, there were 38 large dollar contributions totaling $142,880, averaging $3760.

– In May 2018, there were 26 large dollar contributions totaling $90,228, averaging $3470.

– In June 2018, there were 17 large dollar contributions totaling $55,250, averaging $3250.

These numbers are atypically high for Mr. Scott’s campaign, so much so that we considered them worthy of some further, more detailed analysis.

3. Contributions during specific months in 2018.

And so we did the next logical thing. We created a third table showing contributions during the months that had attracted our attention. Here’s what we found…

– Two $6000 contributions from the same law firm, Schochor, Federico & Staton, a/k/a SF&S, both on June 5, 2018. Assuming that Mr. Scott’s records are accurate and that both contributions were from the same firm and not from different people working at SF&S, the firm has exceeded the $6000 contributions limit.

– Far more importantly – and the reason for this article – is that, in April, May and June alone, there were 44 contributions from individual attorneys at Venable, a large, very prominent, well-respected law firm, totaling $176,250, averaging $4,006.

Of these 44 contributions, 22 were for the maximum $6000. And there were other large, $6000 contributions that may have also been Venable-related, but were recorded as personal contributions without mentioning “Venable LLP” in the “Employer Name” column of Mr. Scott’s campaign filing. In fact, the total contributed by all these parties was significantly higher than the $176,250 explicitly identified by the Scott campaign as Venable-related.

4. What was going on?

Why all the $6000 and other contributions to the Scott campaign committee from people related to Venable, the law firm? The answer has to do with the 2018 Democratic Party primary for Governor.

On June 22, 2017, James Shea, a prominent, very well-respected attorney and former Chairman of Venable law firm, announced his candidacy for Governor of Maryland. (Mr. Shea resigned his position as Chairman of Venable in August of 2016.)

To run with Mr. Shea, he selected Brandon Scott, then 34 years old. At the time, Mr. Scott had five years experience as Councilman for Baltimore’s 2nd District. He was, and still is, Black, young, from Baltimore and well-known and popular in his hometown. His job was to add, some would say “token” diversity to the ticket. Otherwise, he had no special qualifications to be Lt. Governor or to become Governor were Mr. Shea elected and be unable to serve. Mr. Scott was a convenient political choice.

Mr. Shea opened his campaign with a substantial contribution of his own, in excess of $500,000. There are no limits on the extent to which a candidate can finance his own campaign. That’s a law that has to be changed as soon as possible, because it gives wealthy candidates an advantage having nothing to do with their qualifications.

The $500,000+ was a good start, but Mr. Shea would need substantially more money to be a viable candidate. As it turned out, he lost the primary by a significant margin, but there was no way of knowing that in advance, so he went about raising money for his campaign. Not surprisingly, that effort included encouraging his former partners at Venable to support his run for office.

In 2017, mostly in April of that year, the Shea campaign received 34 $6000 contributions. At least 21 are from attorneys (then partners?) at Venable. Those contributions totaled $204,000. His campaign received other contributions, but let’s just focus on these 34. What these 34 contributions have in common is that all the contributors have now maxed out their ability to contribute the Mr. Shea’s campaign.

At some point, in April, May and June of 2018, Mr. Shea’s campaign needed additional funding. Nothing wrong or surprising about that. Running a statewide campaign for governor is an expensive business.

Raising money, and doing it quickly, probably encouraged his campaign and other fundraisers to reach out to people who had already contributed. It’s an understandable, tried and proven strategy. But then, many of his supporters – the 34 we’ve just been talking about – had already maxed out their legal limit.

Presumably, someone contacted those 34 contributors and asked for more money – and they agreed but, this time, wrote their checks for $6000, in April, May and June of 2018, to Brandon Scott’s campaign committee. That’s a different committee than Mr. Shea’s, but it was still helpful given that Brandon Scott was James Shea’s running mate.

Remember, most of these 34 contributors are attorneys, as is Mr. Shea of course. They certainly know campaign financing law and weren’t, at least not intentionally, going to do anything illegal.

So Mr. Scott spent the money they gave him to run for Lt. Governor and that helped the Shea campaign? …But no. That’s not what happened. What happened, on June 1, 2018, is that the Scott campaign – having spent only a small fraction of what it received via the auspices of Shea campaign fundraising – wired $250,000 to the Shea-Scott Maryland Slate. We know this from the Scott Committee’s June 15, 2018 filing with the Board of Elections and from Slate contributions data. And then another $200,000 11 days later on June 12, 2018.

Problem… The June 12, 2018 $200,000 wire from the Scott campaign to the Slate shows up as Slate-reported contributions data – which is how we know about it – but not on the Scott campaign filing for the period beginning June 11, 2018. The only wire showing for June 12 on the Scott filing is for $35,000 directly to Jim Shea For Maryland, but which the Slate is showing as a contribution it received on June 20.

The 2018 primary was on June 26.

The Slate was a separate committee, separate from James Shea for Maryland. But then that’s a legally convenient distinction without a difference, without meaning. Why’s that? Because, on June 1, the Shea-Scott Maryland Slate committee turned around and wired the $250,000 that it received that same day from the Scott campaign to The Campaign Group. Same for the other $200,000 it received from the Scott campaign on June 12.

What’s “The Campaign Group”? It’s a Philadelphia-based agency that James Shea hired to produce commercials for his run for Governor.

5. So what?

The “So what?” here is that Brandon Scott, now candidate for Mayor of Baltimore, was used by the James Shea campaign to effectively launder campaign contributions to enable large dollar contributors to circumvent the $6000 limit on campaign contributions in a single election cycle.

The Shea campaign used him. Used Mr. Scott’s race, youth, popularity in Baltimore and naiveté to Mr. Shea’s advantage. No doubt, Mr. Scott received a great deal of politically and personally satisfying exposure by virtue of being selected as Mr. Shea’s running mate. In return, he cooperated. He did what he was asked or told to do. The question for Baltimore voters is whether or not it’s the kind of behavior that disqualifies Brandon Scott as a candidate running for Mayor of Baltimore.

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