Democratic nominee for mayor, Catherine E. Pugh, today acknowledged that James T. Smith Jr., two-term Baltimore County executive and former Maryland Secretary of Transportation, arranged for a last-minute loan of about $100,000 to help the Pugh campaign get over the finish line in its April 26 primary victory over former Mayor Sheila Dixon.
The loan came after the April 10 deadline for the filing of pre-primary finance reports by candidates and has not been previously disclosed by Pugh or her campaign.
Rumors of the loan have been circulating since Smith took charge of the Pugh campaign after the primary and began “making noises,” according to one well-connected source, “that he and his Baltimore County cronies are going to take over city government after November.”
Various sources told The Brew that Pugh was desperate for money in the final days of the campaign, and Smith arranged to give her a helping hand through a political committee he controls.
Asked about the transaction today, Pugh confirmed the loan and the amount, and said, “I would think you’re right” when asked if the funds came from the “Baltimore County Victory Slate.”
Obscure Political Group
Smith was reported to be “unavailable” today at his Towson law firm, Smith, Gildea & Schmidt. He has not responded to a voicemail seeking comment.
State records show that Smith closed his longtime political committee, “Friends of Jim Smith,” in late 2014 after transferring $476,380 to the Baltimore County Victory Slate, an obscure group that had less than $20,000 in its coffers before the Smith infusion.
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The slate last year gave $9,000 to the political committees of Cathy Bevins, a 6th District Baltimore County councilwoman, and Michael E. Busch, Maryland House Speaker, state election board records show.
As of January 2016, the Victory Slate reported a cash balance of $437,348. It lists no campaign chairman and William Christopher McCollum as its treasurer.
Other Pugh Loans
According to Pugh, “We’ll report it [the Smith loan] on our campaign report, absolutely,” referring to the next campaign report that will be filed at the end of August.
The mayoral nominee is holding a June 29 fundraiser at the Baltimore Convention Center. One of its goals is to pay off the debt to Smith and other loans her campaign received just before the primary election.
Pugh said she could not recall the amounts of the other loans – or the parties that gave them – saying her campaign treasurer, Keith Timmons, would know.
“I don’t get to see that kind of stuff,” Pugh said, “I really don’t.” Timmons did not respond to a voicemail message left at his law office.
Pugh said she is relying on Smith for advice on transportation issues facing Baltimore. “Jim is also a friend. We’ve served on boards and commissions together, and I know him very well.”
Asked if Smith will join her administration – Pugh is the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in November – she said, “I haven’t made any decisions. I think it’s much too early to do that.”