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October 11, 2010

False campaign material leads to charges

A 57-year-old Prince George's County man is accused of creating an official-looking but false sample ballot that incorrectly linked top Democrats to underdog candidates,distributed during the early voting period that preceded the Sept. 14 primaries.

Jerry Mathis, 57, faces three counts of distributing campaign material without proper authority line in violation of Maryland’s election law. Each charge, filed Friday by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $25,000 fine.

Mathis is the lone person charged with election law violations this year, Gansler's spokeswoman said.

Prosecutors allege that Mathis used the authority line "Citizens for Change,Charles S. Summers, treasurer" on the fliers. Such an entity does not exist, prosecutors said. There is a Citizens for Change registered in Maryland, but it is an Anne Arundel County Republican group with a different treasurer. Summers, prosecutors said, had no role in the false flier.

In the days leading to the primaries, numerous candidates reported the distribution of not-so-accurate sample ballots and fliers. We reported on several instances, including in the Della/Ferguson matchup and in the Stone/Hadfield race.

What sets the Mathis flier apart, prosecutors said, is that it included a phony authority line -- a clear violation of the law. Sample ballots and fliers urging voters to select candidates who haven't endorsed each other, as in the examples linked above, aren't necessary illegal, so long as the authority line is real.

The Mathis fliers drew the attention of Angela Alsobrooks, a candidate for Prince George's County state's attorney who was surprised to see an "Official Democratic Ballot" with a checkmark for Sen C. Anthony Muse comingled with one for her opponent, Thomas Dernoga.

More checkmarks for little-known Democratic delegate candidates, rather than ones Muse was known to support, also served as red flags for Alsobrooks.

In her letter to Gansler and other election law authorities, Alsobrooks noted that "Prince George's County has a well-documented history of last-minute fraudulent election practices."

Gansler obtained a restraining order Sept. 7 on those sample ballots, and the charges against Mathis followed. A trial date has not been set.

Incidentally, the ballots seemed to have little influence among voters: Alsobrooks walloped Dernoga and other Democratic primary opponents.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 8:03 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Primaries 2010
        

Comments

The authority line included in the Stone/Hadfield was indeed real.

However, it was every bit as phony as the Mathis flier because whomever created it did so without the permission or knowledge of my (the Olszewski) campaign.

In other words, the creator of the Stone/Hadfield flier "forged" the support of my campaign account -- in my view, an offense that is at least as reprehensible, if not worse, than presenting a false authority line.


Delegate John Olszewski, Jr.

How's about charging O'Malley and his ilk while they are at it? The TV ad that claims Erlich was responsible for the 72% BGE rate increase is criminal. In all my years I have never heard a campaign lie as bold as this one. Stretching the truth is one thing, but this is an outright lie. The real shame is how the media in Maryland opts to ignore the claim.

@ mike kellum. The purpose of this law is to punish those who willfully publish false materials, not to punish opinions that are unpopular or that you disagree with. In fact, the law originated with Ehrlich tactics, when GOP operatives went to poor neighborhoods telling voters they could not vote if they were behind on their rent or utility payments, or going to PG County with pictures of Michael Steele purporting him to be Bob Ehrlich. Other questionable groups targeted heavily Democratic communities attempting to tell voters the wrong day for the election. The authority line gives every voter the opportunity to go to elections.state.md.us and verify the identity of the organization. By listing a false authority line, Mr Mathis deprived voters of the chance to uncover his literature's source. This separates this act from those mentioned by Johnny O.

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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