The Maryland State Prosecutor has opened an investigation into the campaign slate used by former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. to bankroll candidates of his choosing in local elections.
Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard III declined to confirm or deny the existence of the investigation into the Victory Slate, but Andrea W. Trento, an assistant attorney general, confirmed it has been underway.
The Brew had sought access to a compliance review of Victory Slate records by the State Board of Elections (SBE). This followed an article on sizable cash discrepancies found in the public reports submitted by the Victory Slate.
SBE denied the request, citing the “investigative exemption” in the Maryland Public Information Act that allows the withholding of records whose release is considered contrary to the public interest.
Over $1 Million Expended
A slate is an obscure electioneering device in which two or more political committees join forces to raise, spend and transfer money among themselves.
Unlike political committees that are limited to $6,000 of individual contributions during an election cycle, slates have no restrictions on the money they can receive and transfer to each other.
Smith established the Victory Slate while Baltimore County executive in 2006, using money from his “Friends of Jim Smith” campaign committee.
Since then, the slate has distributed $761,473 to members of the slate, all Democrats, according to reports it filed with the SBE that were reviewed by The Brew.
Another $400,000 was spent on polling, opposition research, printing of campaign brochures and other costs benefiting more than a dozen candidates in public office.
Current members of the Victory Slate include:
• House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones,
• State Senator Katherine Klausmeier,
• State Senator Delores G. Kelley,
• Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello,
• Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger,
• Three members of the Baltimore County Council (Cathy Bevins, Julian Jones and Tom Quirk).
Last month, The Brew disclosed that $100,000 in cash, transferred by Smith’s campaign committee to the Victory Slate in 2014, went unreported for six years by its treasurer, William “Chris” McCollum.
McCollum found the missing money after a reporter started making inquiries about it at the SBE. McCollum also revealed $26,000 that he paid himself in “consulting fees” but did not disclose until he amended the finance reports earlier this year.
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It is not clear whether McCollum’s self-payment disclosures are part of the state prosecutor’s investigation.
Both McCollum and Smith have not responded to requests for comment.
An aide to County Executive John Olszewski Jr. has declined to make McCollum, a $135,000-a-year “senior administrative aide” in the Department of Economic and Workforce Development, available for an interview.
He confirmed that McCollum is still on the county payroll.
Central Figure in IG Probe
McCollum is the central figure in two critical reports by county Inspector General Kelly Madigan.
He was faulted for purchasing more than $1 million in unneeded equipment and using county procurement cards to make $30,000 in unauthorized purchases while director of the county’s Ag Center – a position he was appointed to by Jim Smith.
Madigan came under attack by Bevins and Jones at a recent budget hearing for, in their view, intimidating county employees and misusing her county-paid business card by printing her agency’s hot line on the back of the card.
McCollum was alluded to, but never directly named, in the especially hostile questioning by Bevins.
Bevins was the recipient of $46,000 in direct funding from the Victory Slate and, after she won election to the council in 2010, retained McCollum as her campaign’s treasurer.
After The Brew disclosed McCollum’s connections to Bevins, the Middle River councilwoman told another media outlet that he had resigned “several months ago.” A campaign officer must resign in writing for the resignation to go into effect, and McCollum has not done so to date, according to SBE records.
Jones received $18,000 in Victory Slate funds during his successful race for the 4th District (Randallstown) council seat in 2014.
He described the Ag Center reports centered on McCollum as “fluff,” while simultaneously scolding Madigan for leaving county employees “terrified” of her investigations.
Smith in Pugh Administration
The Victory Slate is no stranger to controversy. A last-minute $100,000 loan that the slate made to Catherine Pugh in 2016 was widely credited with helping her defeat Sheila Dixon in the Baltimore City Democratic Party primary for mayor.
The loan turned out to be illegal because Pugh was not a member of the slate when the loan was issued by treasurer McCollum
The slate subsequently paid a $3,000 fine to resolve a civil complaint brought by Howard’s predecessor, State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt.
By that time, Smith had settled into the position of chief of strategic alliances, a $175,000 cabinet-level position that was created by Pugh.
Smith left Baltimore City Hall in April 2019 shortly before Pugh resigned as the Healthy Holly scandal gripped her administration.
The scandal was triggered by the revelation that the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) had paid Pugh $500,000 to print amateurish children’s books that were supposed to go to Baltimore City schoolchildren, but which were either not printed or were resold by Pugh to organizations receiving city contracts.
Then a prominent member of the UMMS board of directors, Smith escaped legal jeopardy, while Pugh is now in an Alabama prison serving three years for tax evasion and conspiracy.
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