Two days after The Brew reported that Mayor Brandon Scott was soliciting online for cash, gift cards and baby supplies for his newborn son, the registry was switched to a private setting.
The action came after the chair of the city Ethics Board and Baltimore’s inspector general said the mayor never requested a gift solicitation waiver to conduct online fundraising.
In an earlier written statement to The Brew, the mayor’s office had defended the baby registry as “private” and “only for friends and family,” and further stated that “the Ethics Board has been consulted repeatedly in regard to this registry” and “the Board have found no issue.”
“Mayor Scott, as he always has, continues to follow all ethics rules and places the utmost emphasis on leading with integrity,” the statement asserted.
The Brew tested the site on Wednesday and found that anyone could contribute baby items and $50 gift cards to the mayor and his fiancée, which raised the possibility that illegal donations could be funneled through the registry and the ban on gifts $20 and over could be skirted.
“The mayor follows all ethics rules and places the utmost emphasis on leading with integrity” – 12/27 Statement by Scott’s Office.
Today the chair of the Ethics Board said the panel was not informed of the baby registry and had neither received nor approved a waiver request for Scott.
“The Board of Ethics has no record of receiving a gift solicitation waiver request for a baby registry,” Stephan W. Fogleman said in a written statement.
Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming issued a similar statement, saying, “Our records do not show any reference to a baby registry or any inquiry about such a registry.”
Asked about the propriety of the registry, Fogleman said, “At this early point, it would be premature for the board to determine if an ethics violation has occurred.”
Cumming, meanwhile, declined to say whether her office was looking into the matter.
“At this early point, it would be premature for the board to determine if an ethics violation has occurred” – Ethics Board Chair Stephan Fogleman.
The city ethics code prohibits an elected official from accepting a gift or award from those doing, or seeking to do, business with the city.
This would include cash or in-kind gifts from an array of so-called “controlled donors” such as developers, contractors, consultants, and companies and individuals regulated, controlled or financially benefiting from municipal contracts or decisions.
There are several exceptions, including when an elected official receives prior approval from the Ethics Board and the Board of Estimates to solicit donations “for the benefit of an official governmental program or activity or a city-endorsed charitable event or activity” (Article 8, Section 6-26(b) of the City Code).
The application for Ethics Board approval should be submitted at least 45 days before any solicitation is made, according to the rules.
Records show that, in addition to not getting Ethics Board approval, Scott did not seek permission from the Board of Estimates before his baby registry was established.
Cards and Cash
Scott and his fiancée, Hana Pugh, have so far received more than 95 gifts on their Babylist site. They include at least six $50 cash gifts.
As of earlier today, Scott and Pugh were additionally seeking:
• 50 Target and 49 Amazon gift cards totaling $4,950 in cash value.
• 25 Uber Eats and 25 Door Dash cards totaling $2,500 in value.
• An open-ended number of cash donations that “will go towards Charm’s savings account.”
The registry instructs donors to send the cash donations and the gift cards (if they choose) to Pugh’s private gmail address.
Under city law, Mayor Scott is required to report all gifts with a value of $20 or more in his annual financial disclosure statement.
The latest statement, covering calendar year 2023, is due at the end of January.
According to Ethics Board Director J. Christoph Amberger, gifts received by Scott through December 31 would be reportable in January, and any gifts received in calendar 2024 need not be disclosed until January 2025.
But there is a significant loophole in the present law.
Because Pugh is not legally the mayor’s wife, gifts and cash she receives through the baby registry are not reportable on Scott’s public disclosure form, Amberger said.
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