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Progressive Causes Clash

Two of Maryland's most respected good-government groups have become embroiled in a heated dispute over an alleged campaign finance violation.

Last week, Bobbye Walton of Common Cause Maryland distributed a news release saying she had filed a complaint against Progressive Maryland. In it, she alleged that Progressive Maryland had improperly used its money to promote political candidates for state office.

The complaint brought a strong reaction not only from Progressive Maryland, which offered an impassioned denial of any wrongdoing, but also from Common Cause's national headquarters, which said the complaint was not authorized by its officials.

Moreover, Common Cause spokeswoman Mary Boyle said Walton had no business filing documents on behalf of the organization because she had resigned the day before.

"She no longer works for Common Cause," Boyle said. "This is not something we stand behind."

The dispute first surfaced months ago, when Walton saw campaign material being distributed by Progressive Maryland, a Montgomery County-based group that advocates on behalf of fair wages and campaign finance reform. The group's executive director, Tom Hucker, was campaigning for state delegate, a seat the Democratic candidate won in November.

Walton said she believed it was a problem that the group was paying for and distributing campaign material that urged people to vote for a specific candidate. She cited a 2002 case involving Citizens for Quality Living, a group that supported County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's "End Gridlock" slate of council candidates. That group's campaign activities were determined to be legal because its literature never used such words as "support," "vote for" or "oppose" in reference to the council races.

"My position is, when Progressive Maryland said 'vote for,' they were campaigning," Walton said. "That means they should have paid for them as a political action committee, so everything could be transparent."

When Walton asked the parent group in Washington if she could file a complaint, though, it told her not to. "I had a running disagreement with them from the time this first came to my attention," she said. "They said I was 'not to turn on a coalition partner.' "

The two groups are working together on campaign finance reform issues in Maryland.

"I told them I could not in good conscience look the other way," Walton said. So she resigned.

Boyle said Walton had lost touch with her group's mission. "Common Cause tries to work for broad and systemic reform," she said. "That is not done through a constant filing of complaints."

Then there was the matter of the veracity of the complaint. That's still unclear, but Sean Dobson, Progressive Maryland's spokesman, provided a June 30 e-mail exchange in which state elections officials bless the group's campaign activity.

"Progressive Maryland scrupulously complies with the law," Dobson said. "Common Cause itself repudiates the fraudulent allegation by its rogue former employee. I can't possibly imagine what her motivations are in throwing this garbage out there."

Matt Mosk

By Phyllis Jordan  |  December 4, 2006; 6:56 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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