Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

In kind…

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Help me with an ethical dilemna. 

According to Maryland Election Law which can be found in a summary format under Chapter 7 – Contributions and Transfers

7.4 In-Kind Contributions

An in-kind contribution includes any thing of value (except money). For example, a person can contribute bumper stickers to a candidate’s committee. The amount of the contribution equals the fair market value of the bumper stickers. An in-kind contribution counts towards the donor’s contribution limits.

Services provided to a campaign can also be considered an in-kind contribution if the type of service is one that the person normally charges for providing.

Example

  • Ms. Daisy Designer, a commercial artist, designs a logo for John D. Candidate, free of charge. Since designing logos is something Daisy would normally charge $1,000 for doing, Daisy has made an in-kind contribution of $1,000 to John D. Candidate’s committee. This $1,000 counts toward Daisy’s contribution limits discussed in Chapter 7.2 of this Summary Guide.
  • Daisy Designer still wants to do more to help John D. Candidate. She volunteers to stuff envelopes and answer phones at John D. Candidate’s campaign headquarters. Since stuffing envelopes and answering phones is not a service that Daisy normally charges for providing, her activities are not considered to be an in-kind contribution to the campaign.

If a “public relations executive” volunteered as a “Communications Director and a Senior Advisor” on a Maryland candidate’s election would that be considered an in-kind donation? How much would be charged for those services in the “real” world?  Of course it depends on what exactly a Communications Director/Public Relations Executive did for the candidate and how much time that person put into the campaign.  Is that person’s expertise as a “Communications Director” in anyway related to their expertice as a “public relations executive”?  And of course would those services and time be worth more than what is permitted by campaign finance law?

7.2 Contribution Limits

A person can contribute no more than $4,000 to one campaign finance entity, and a total of $10,000 to all campaign finance entities, during the four-year cycle.

Now if the services provided are related to the person’s profession experience and something they would normally charge for then:

  1. it should simply appear as a line item on the candidates finance reports, and
  2. if they exceed the contribution limits the candidate would be obligated to pay the difference to the volunteer and also note that on the campaign finance report.

However, I don’t note any such expenditures or contributions on the candidate’s financial reports.  Now the “volunteer” didn’t do anything wrong.  They worked for the candidate they felt was the best person for a specific elected office.  That is to be commended.  However, the candidate accepted services from this volunteer and they would know if the services that the volunteer provided actually met the standard of in kind donations.

If you noticed something this troubling what would you do?  I am open to suggestions on that question.  Any idea how the Maryland State Board of Elections would handle such a violation before I ask them?

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33 Responses to “In kind…”

  1. Since none of your other nonsense has stuck said

    Is this your newest line of attack? Election was 8 months ago. Give it up! You lost!

  2. Ok. I give it up. I am immediately shutting down this blog.

  3. SallySells said

    David,
    You and countless other normal minded American’s enjoy this site and freedom of speech way to much to shut down, but you must be sniffing like a blood hound with this “hypothetical” for the first poster to turn this into something real – what does He know that we don’t??????

  4. Sally,

    I always said women are smarter then men. You are on to something. That post is so hypothetical it could have been about anyone. Hmmmm. Next time I am at the library I will check out COMAR.

    Sally, I also believe in free speech (free markets too). I am not going to let a whiner get to me. They can comment all they want. They can attack, and throw slurs. What they can’t do is address my allegations. They never have and never will. They just dismiss them.

    Hey, maybe someone will start http://www.ulmanwatch.com?

  5. Sally,

    It occured to me this morning that the commenter must be pretty close to a politico (personally or professionally) to keep have this strike a cord. Also, they only comment from a library computer after 5PM and may not want their association to be known. So, once again I think you are right. Not only what do they know – how do they know it. I hope they keep coming back and exposing themselves.

  6. David,

    The Maryland Board of Elections would do absolutely nothing in this case. A great example of how the Board of Elections never does anything would be the race of Baltimore County Senator Bobby Zirkin. Mr. Zirkin’s campaign received office space from a prominent property manager at a fraction of the cost. The $2k+ space was donated to the campaign for a number closer to $300.
    Maryland law does not require a campaign to track their donations and instead punishes the provider of the donation/service. For instance, if a donation exceeds the $4000 limit, by say $40,000, the campaign can keep the money. The donor that gave too much is at fault and by law “could” have to pay $36,000 in fines. But if it is a Democrat that the money was given to, and that person won the race, it is very rare that the Board has ever fined the donors.
    This is a disgusting shell game that exists by having a Board of Elections controlled by Linda Lamone. Even if Linda Lamone were arrested and sat in a jail cell, she would still be able to run the Board of Elections because of a law passed by the legislature a few years back.

  7. number9dream said

    To summarize all of this (which would be to summarize most of the sniveling that occurs on politics-oriented sites): That’s politics, baby!

    If you’re so unhappy with the workings of the present-day machinery known as “democracy”, get out of your idyllic little whitebread confines and do something about it.

    Oh, and by the way, what WOULD you do about it?

  8. “What WOULD you do about it?”

    Report it (and other things) to the State Board of Elections.

  9. John B. said

    Hi gang. Interesting topic.

    I’m inclined to say that the value of the donation of “time” is something that you don’t want to try to quantify/qualify unless you want to get into some REALLY hard-core regulation.

    I don’t know the specifics of the Zirkin issue as mentioned above, but that certainly sounds like it’s a reasonable thing to pursue. The PR issue seems different to me, since there’s no end product. Even as a former PR guy who was paid to believe that there was tangible value in what I did – at the end of the day, there really wasn’t. Unlike real-estate or bumper stickers, I see some fuzziness to the donation of time and counsel, especially in regards to communications.

    I say this, in part, because crippling quantification/qualification arguments could be made for a lot of other volunteer activities if you examine them closely enough. I’m not a slippery-slope-arguing guy, but this seems so hard to pin-down that I say “let sleeping dogs lie” on this one, and hammer home on the more obvious violations.

    My two-cents.

    John B.

  10. chris said

    “That post is so hypothetical it could have been about anyone.”

    Actually, not really. A simple google search of your “hypothetical” job title in the campaign (misspelling and all) produces exactly two hits, and one of them is your blog. You clearly had an ax to grind from the beginning…this post was never “hypothetical.” Its disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

    However, the point of the post, hypothetical or not, may be valid. But I agree with John B. when he says “the value of the donation of “time” is something that you don’t want to try to quantify/qualify unless you want to get into some REALLY hard-core regulation.”

    Suppose I have a high paying job…I get $400/hr (Ha!). Am I limited to 10 hours of handing out fliers for a candidate because the value of my time is $400/hr? Should Comcast reimburse me $1200 because they showed up 3 hrs late for a service appointment? If I volunteer at a soup kitchen for 40 hours in a year, do I get to deduct $16,000 on my taxes?

  11. Chris,

    It is hypothetical only in the sense that I did not mention any names a point that Sally made. I didn’t mention names on purpose because I didn’t want to name the volunteer who was only trying to do the right thing. I used the term hypothetical in response to Sally’s comment in which Sally pointed out that an earlier commentor (including Sally) do not know who I am referring to. As such Sally pointed out that based on the way the post was written the commentor would not know who I was talking about and as such to them it was hypothetical.

    Was I referring to a real situation? Of course I was and that is obvious – as you pointed out – that it is not a hypothetical post. I can’t control Google’s search engine.

    As to handing out fliers. If you did that as a profession for $400 per hour then according to the example set out in the Summary Guide of Maryland’s election law then you would be limited in the number of hours you could donate to the campaign. However, you could answer telephones for them. I didn’t write the law and I don’t know the reasoning behind that particular regulation.

  12. Freemarket said

    Just curious- does it matter if you offer these services directly to the public vs. performing these services for a private company? For example, if I am the General Counsel for a private company, but I don’t provide legal services to the public, am I limited on the market value of legal advice I offer to a campaign?

    More to this example, what if the PR guy in question owns a corporation that offers PR services to the public? If the PR guy performed the services personally and not through the corporation that he owns is he still limited? After all, the PR guy just draws a salary and dividends from his company.

    It is common for LLC’s and corporations under common control to make the maximum dollar contributions to campaigns. For example, if I own five companies, each of my 5 companies can donate $4,000 to a campaign. In effect, I have donated $20,000. Who is to say these services weren’t performed by a series of partnerships?

    Also, David- you have a BAD habit of dropping personal information about folks who comment on this blog. I am not commenting from library computers, but I nevertheless resent the disclosure of that information. I would have hoped you learned your lesson from Mary Smith.

  13. chris said

    re: the fliers — i should’ve read more thoroughly on the election law before commenting on said election law. i am corrected…

    Your discussion of hypothetical reminds me of a TV show cliche “Suppose, hypothetically, I had a friend who liked this girl…”

    Even though you never mentioned any names, it was pretty obvious who you were going after (even without google, which only proves it). Attacking SNOYONHS as somehow being connected simply for defending the “hypothetically” accused is, again, disingenuous.

    I’ll respectfully ask you to not post any personal information about me that you can dig up from my IP address…

  14. Chris,

    Yes it was obvious. No secret. I wasn’t trying hide it. Again I was trying to protect the volunteer and keep them anonymous – I didn’t want to mention their name. Unfortunately some clever people read this blog and a cut here a paste there and a google there. I didn’t realise the Public Relations Exec’s web master is a poor speller (like me).

    What is SNOYONHS?

    Personal information. No problem. I don’t know how long you have been coming here. If you are new here please read the Disclaimer.

  15. chris said

    david,

    SNOYONHS=Since None Of Your Other Nonsense Has Stuck , the first commenter

  16. Ralph Norton said

    David,
    If your not theorizing on your post and your assertions are real – sounds like the candidate needs to be reported to the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission. Hopefully most current elected officals are above this kind of unlawful activity, however I wouldn’t put it past a few…..Thanks for maintaining this great Blog!

  17. Ralph,

    State Ethics Commission? I hadn’t thought about that. What do you think about the RC.COM issue.

    Ralph, Sally, FM, JB, OW – thanks for staying on topic.

  18. Freemarket said

    State Ethics Commission? I think you people are getting way ahead of yourselves. Why don’t you first report this technicality to the Board of Elections and see what they say? Otherwise, you are just working yourselves into frenzy over an innuendo. I think this will pan out to be a non-issue that will be worth more to the opposing party as disinformation and propaganda purposes than anything else.

  19. FM,

    Probably not going there. I hadn’t thought of it and I was momentarily intrigued.

  20. Freemarket said

    Here is another “hypothetical” situation: let’s say Gail Bates is a CPA. Let’s say her husband is the campaign treasurer of the “Victory Fund” for both herself and Warren Miller. If CPA Bates reviews financial reports for the campaign, does any kind of tax filings on behalf of the campaign, or otherwise provides any financial consultation to her husband, wouldn’t Warren Miller have to report his share (50%) of the market value of those services as an in-kind contribution? After all, as a CPA in public practice, those services aren’t above what she would do professionally. I am assuming that Del. Bates can perform services for herself and not have to report the market value of those services as an in-kind contribution.

  21. Under those circumstances under the regulation as I understand it I don’t think Gail or Warren would have to report anything since it is a slate committee.

  22. Keep Up the Good Work said

    Wouldn’t it also be a violation of election law to put out campaign material saying you were experienced, when in fact you weren’t? Like to say you were a Cabinet Secretary?

    Or, hypothetically again, someone’s daddy supports him financially so he can spend more time campaigning?

  23. jim adams said

    WOW!!!! Freemarket, love your “hypothetical”.

  24. tomberkhouse said

    Jim – have you changed your party affiliation to DemocRat yet?

  25. jim adams said

    Yes,Tomberkhouse, I have and without regret. The group in the Western Howard County Club are exceptional.They are building an exceptional club, and they are allowing me to be a part of that constructive work. We are going to give the local Republicans a run for their money in 2010.

    If you enjoy politics keep an eye on the Western part of the county, You may even see something of interest sooner than you think. If you live in that part on the county keep your eyes open.

    Your welcome to join our club, we meet the second Tuesday of the month, at the Conservancy on Route 99. David, thanks for the advertising space.

  26. John Blutarski said

    Jim,
    Just wondering about your comment to Freemarket – if you thought this was such a good idea, what would one find when researching what you reported on your personal treasurer account? Did you show your time filing the report as an “In-Kind” contribution?

  27. John,

    Another great “hypothetical”.

  28. jim adams said

    John Blutarski, Your free to research my personal treasurer account. I have one request. Display the complete account on this blog.

    I think it will start a lot of people, besides you to wonder, wonder why we don’t discuss all the candidates and their campaign financing.

    Go for it John, unless your just a lot of talk.

  29. SallySells said

    Did Jim just put John Blutarski on double secret probation?

  30. I don’t know Sally, but I thought the Bates/Miller and follow up question on Jim Adams were all on par with one another but the reactions were different.

  31. jim adams said

    David, my reaction to Freemarket’s Hypothetical was a “WOW”, because this is the way the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts would state a question on the Ethical portion of the C.P.A. exam. My reaction had nothing to do with politics, or whether it was a good or bad idea as far as reporting “In-Kind” contributions.

    But, with John’s question to me, I thought I would open the discussion up to campaign financing. I think your readers would enjoy seeing the way money was flowing in amounts and directions during the last election, especially in the western portion of the county.

  32. Thanks for the clarification. Readers should view the campaign finance reports available at the SBE. They are interesting.

  33. jim adams said

    David, Check but not Check Mate.

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