Baltimore Press, Green Party

City Council candidate sues board over incumbent’s race

Branch was not eligible, Green Party’s Ross says

The Green Party candidate who lost to City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch in Tuesday’s election sued the state Board of Elections on Friday for allowing Branch to run despite missing campaign finance reports.

Glenn L. Ross contends that Branch was ineligible to run because of the missing reports and unpaid late fees. His lawsuit, filed in city Circuit Court, calls for a new election in East Baltimore’s 13th District.

“I’m not a sore loser,” said Ross, who garnered 1,188 votes to Branch’s 7,780. “I’m a big boy. I’ll take my licks. But people need to abide by the law.”

Branch and state officials could not be reached for comment about the lawsuit, which was filed late Friday afternoon.

A campaign committee for Branch has not filed a finance report since last year and owes $1,500 in late fees, state officials have said. Branch has attributed the problem to a computer glitch with the state software needed to file the reports.

Before the election, Ross’ campaign complained to the state board, claiming that under state law she must be disqualified as a candidate.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, made a similar complaint against Councilwoman Agnes Welch of West Baltimore’s 9th District. Her campaign finances went unreported for years – until her son, a professional accountant who filed false reports on her behalf, pleaded guilty last summer in a related criminal case.

Maryland election law prohibits a person from running for or assuming public office if he or she has “failed to file a campaign finance report that is due from, or on behalf of, that individual.”

But late last month, the board decided that Branch and Welch could stay on the ballot.

State elections officials say candidates rarely can be held responsible for the reporting lapses of their campaign committees. They contend that the only people who are liable for delinquent filings are a campaign committee’s chairman or treasurer. Candidates cannot serve as their own treasurers, but they can be their own chairmen. Branch and Welch did not chair their committees.

The lawsuit notes that elections officials did not always interpret the law that way, citing an article in The Sun that quoted Terry Harris, deputy director of the campaign finance division of the Maryland Board of Elections.

“The old way we handled it, we wouldn’t allow the candidate to run for office,” Harris was quoted as saying.

Harris said her office stopped operating that way within the past four years on the advice of the attorney general’s office.