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Pr. Geo's candidate Rushern Baker faces questions on campaign finance, past birther donor

Jonathan Mummolo

Prince George's County executive candidate Rushern L. Baker III (D) had a busy day Tuesday.

He pledged early and frequent disclosure of his campaign donors and challenged other candidates to do the same. He defended donations from large donors, saying they are buying nothing but "good government" when they give to his campaign. And he sought to brush aside the fact that he has received money in the past from a U.S. Senate candidate who has said he does not believe President Obama was born in the United States.

The statements by Baker--who is a leading contender to replace term-limited County Executive Jack B. Johnson--were an effort to address issues head-on that so far have dogged the early days of his campaign and given fodder to his opponents.

Baker officially launches his third bid for county executive Wednesday morning. He has been taking heat over more than $200,000 his campaign received through a slate, County 1 Now, whose donors are still unknown.

Apparently in response to all the coverage it has gotten, the slate has decided to take the unusual step of hiring a spokesman. Late Tuesday, that spokesman, Alexander Krughoff -- Baker's communications director during the 2006 campaign -- said the slate's donors would be released online early Wednesday with all the usual campaign finance information for donors: Name, address, amount of donation. Here's a link to the site where they'll be posted.

"I'm going to try to get them up around 2 in the morning," Krughoff said Tuesday. "They'll be up by 6 a.m. tomorrow."

Krughoff said he was not working for the campaign this time around, abut was hired by the slate's treasurer in January as a communications consultant.

As far as those donors who gave to Baker directly, their won't be released for another 60 days, according to campaign spokesman James Adams.

"60 days from today [Tuesday], Rushern will release the names of the donors of Friends of Rushern Baker," Adams said, referring to Baker's campaign committee.

That would be closer to 120 days since the last filing, which was Jan. 20.

In a television interview Tuesday, Baker said he has always been amenable to full disclosure of his finances.

"We're going to release the donors that we have," Baker told News Channel 8 reporter Bruce DePuyt. "I've never had a problem releasing who gives money to our campaign. What I think you have to do is apply that same standard to everyone else."

Baker faced numerous questions in the segment generated by a recent six-part series on the blog Maryland Politics Watch, which examined past large donors to the campaign, including local apartment building mogul David Hillman.

Hillman became a foe of current County Executive Jack B. Johnson -- who defeated Baker in 2002 and 2006 -- when Johnson in 2005 named some of his properties on a list of 22 apartment complexes that he said were unsafe and promised to crack down on.

According to one installment of the Maryland Politics Watch series, contributions and loans from Hillman and his affiliates to Baker top $750,000 over the past ten years.

DePuyt put it bluntly to Baker: "When one person gives a ton of money to a candidate, there's always that question: What's he getting? What's he buying? What would a county executive owe Donald -- excuse me -- David Hillman?"

Baker, a former state delegate, responded by terming Hillman a "philanthropist in Prince George's County" who has donated to Prince George's Community College, "scholarships for needy kids to go to college" and the the University of Maryland.

"I actually met him when I was chairman of the Prince George's House Delegation," Baker continued. "The way I met him was he was offering scholarships for kids to go to college. And so we became personal friends. And so not much in my first race, but in my second race, he's was one of the few that were people willing to take a chance on my candidacy. As you know then, the current county executive had about a 30-point lead on me, and not many people -- especially those who wanted to do business in Prince George's County -- would give us any money. But David, as a friend, was willing to do that. And I think, you know, what is he buying?...Nothing. The people who know me, know my career, know where I stand, know my voting record...what you buy is good government, whether he gave me $5 or $500,000."

"I normally can't raise any money," Baker said with a laugh. "The first time we raise money, these questions come up."

DePuyt was not so quick to let the issue go.

"The numbers I think, by any yard stick, would raise questions," he said. "Do you concede where some might say hey, one person, a developer -- we all know the history of Prince George's County in terms of money and deals and things that don't look or smell or feel right, and here's a guy who could be county exec, and one guy would have written a ton of checks to you if you're successful."

"Let me correct one thing," Baker responded. "David Hillman is not a developer in Prince George's County. He owns apartments in Prince George's County."

"Well they didn't put themselves up," DePuyt fired back. "What do you mean he owns apartments but he's not a developer?"

"Developers are looking for projects, they come in and develop -- like National Harbor, or Greenbelt, or New Carrollton, but even if he was one of those folks...There's nothing I can do for him. He's a billionaire. There's really very little. it doesn't matter whether Rushern Baker is county executive, Jack Johnson is county executive or Joe Blow is county executive, he's gonna do well. The only thing that we can do for folks and the only thing I can promise people is we will have the best government that we possibly can."

DePuyt also asked about County 1 Now, saying the slate has, "funneled at least a couple hundred thousand dollars to your campaign."

Baker said he had not joined a slate in past elections but that, "I did it this time because I didn't want to just run for county executive. I wanted to run on ideas and invite other folks to come on and be a part of that."

DePuyt then played a video clip of U.S. Senate candidate Eric Wargotz, also mentioned in the Maryland Politics Watch series, who DePuyt pointed out has donated to Baker. In the clip, Wargotz, who is challenging Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), was recently asked whether he believed President Obama was born in the U.S., and said no.

"He also contributed to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend," Baker said. "I will admit here on TV that he is a personal friend of mine. I've known him when he was Democrat, I know him now that he is a Republican. I will say this: Isn't it nice that I can reach across the aisle and get money from a lot of folks?...You have to build bridges with everyone."

However, Baker said, "Clearly, Barack Obama was born in the United States."

What a day. And all before the campaign kicks off.

-- Jonathan Mummolo

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  March 16, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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Good. Disclosure is the way to go.

Posted by: Hellmut | March 16, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Baker is a fine man and Dr. Wargotz is of impeccable character as well. It has been reported that at least 40% of the US adult population surveyed still has questions about the Presidents birth place. Between the claims of forgery on the Hawiian live birth piece and the Kenyan papers (and a Kenyan report when he ran for US Senate in llinois) and the various claims for names and multiple SS#'s, etc, who the heck knows for certain. Fact is, I have spoken with Dr. Wargotz about this and he very clearly stated that he believes the President deserves to be President and that he was a natural citizen desoite questions about actual birth place. Although he disagrees with the President philosophically on many approaches to the challenging issues, he respects the President and recognizes his constitutional right to be President. His response has been so blown out of perspective. The matter of the President's birth place will probably never be detailed and documented sufficently to satisfy everyone. I appreciate both of these very fine men and am glad they are friends. I am a Democrat and wish both of them much success in their races. God Bless.

Posted by: addictedtopolitics | March 16, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

I voted for Rushen twice in the past, and may do so again. Recent publicity on his finances IS a cause of concern, and needs more explanation. Rushern, if you are explaining, you are losing. Get the info out, you don’t want to look like Tiger.

I might, or might not, vote for Gerron Levi. But for me, at this point, it will be Rushern or Gerron. The thing that gives me pause, and causes me to look for an ulterior motive as between Adam Pagnucco of the Maryland Politics Watch, and Gerron Levi, is this:

Pagnucco is an employee of the carpenters union, Levi is a lawyer with the AFL-CIO. Begs the question, given what Pagnucco has written, is this a union campaign against Rushern? It might be, and it might be warranted, or not. Until I know more, I will treat all parties with caution.

What I’d like to see during the campaign is a vigorous debate on policy issues, and less mudslinging. It’s not like there is any shortage of policy issues to debate.

Posted by: countbobulescu | March 17, 2010 1:19 AM | Report abuse

I guess that anything is possible but one can easily explain Adam Pagnucco's coverage of Rushern Baker's campaign finances without any conspiracies.

After the Post broke the story about the slate, Rushern Baker had become an easy target for anyone who could read a campaign finance report. I am glad that the campaign put an end to it by disclosing the data.

On an unrelated note, congratulations to James Adams for his excellent judgment at the beginning of this brouhaha.

Posted by: Hellmut | March 17, 2010 3:10 AM | Report abuse

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