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Government & Politics

Gloves Come Off in Prince George’s County Over Super PAC Mailer

Angela Alsobrooks

A piece of campaign literature from a union-backed super PAC has upended the race for Prince George’s County executive, with supporters of frontrunner Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) denouncing the organization that sent it, and its chosen candidate, former U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D). “I’ve been involved [in county politics] 44 years,” former state Sen. Gloria Lawlah (D) told reporters and supporters at Alsobrooks headquarters Wednesday. “This is a low point for all of us.” “I was appalled,” said Dr. James Dula, president of the South County Democratic Club, an organization that is neutral in the county executive primary. “We’re better than that in Prince George’s County.” The source of the outrage is a mailer from We Are Prince George’s, a super PAC formed to aid Edwards’ bid for county executive, which has raised the bulk of its money — more than $650,000 — from two unions, one based in Washington, D.C., the other in Reston, Va. The piece features a grainy black and white photo of an unsmiling Alsobrooks beneath an all-caps headline: “Wealthy developers control Prince George’s County Government. Pay-to-play Angela Alsobrooks is right in the middle of it.” The mailing accuses Alsobrooks, the two-term state’s attorney, of being “skilled at the old Prince George’s County game of pay-to-play,” saying she has accepted “nearly $300,000 in campaign cash from wealthy developers” and that she “is supported by the same pay-to-play politicians that have allowed wealthy special interests to control county politics.”   Angela Alsobrooks: “This is quintessential Donna.”  The charges are explosive in a county where a former two-term County Executive, Jack B. Johnson (D), served more than five years in prison following a 2011 guilty plea on multiple federal corruption charges, including bribery. Johnson hired Alsobrooks to serve as deputy state’s attorney when he was the county’s top prosecutor. In an interview, Alsobrooks called the accusation “insulting” and “an evil lie,” adding, “This is a scare tactic that reeks of desperation.” Samuel Epps IV, political director for Unite Here Local 25 and chairman of the We Are Prince George’s super PAC, defended the combustible mailer. “Longtime developers have had a run of the county and so workers, through their union, are stepping up to have a voice,” he said.  Epps said the funding Alsobrooks has received from developers — $300,000 as of January — raises questions about how she would govern if elected. “When government puts money into development projects, will they think about workers? Will they bring high-road development that brings good jobs and wages and [where] people have benefits, or do they bring Dave & Busters, that’s only paying people $13 to $14 an hour with no health insurance?” But the mailer has struck a nerve with Alsobrooks’ supporters, many from organized labor, who fume that the “pay to play” accusation lacks anything to support it. “It was terrible,” said Veronica Turner, a county resident who recently retired from the Service Employees International Union political action team. “I called the office right away. [Edwards] needs to run a clean campaign. That’s not getting you votes.” Although the super PAC operates independently from Edwards’ campaign and the two entities are not allowed to communicate or coordinate, “We want to challenge Donna to take ownership of this information and to denounce it,” said Lawlah, a former Edwards supporter. “Where are you, Donna? Speak up. Let’s get rid of it. You’re not going to bring dirty campaigns and politics to Prince George’s County.”  Rev. Charles Winston McNeill Jr., senior pastor at Unity Baptist Church, called it “painful” to have to explain false attacks to his congregation and to his 16-year-old daughter.  “When we start getting an attack on someone’s character, that is ungodly. When we start putting things out things that are untruthful, that is ungodly.” The Edwards campaign would not make the candidate available for an interview Wednesday, but in a statement released an hour before Alsobrooks’ news conference, she said, “For too long, working families and local businesses have been shut out of our County Government by the same old big developers — and their lawyers, lobbyists, contractors, brokers, and property management companies — who stand up candidates and maintain control over our County’s politics.”  Donna Edwards: “The only way to end this web of corruption is for working people to band together to defeat their candidate.”  “The only way to end this web of corruption is for working people to band together to defeat their candidate. Ms. Alsobrooks has collected nearly half a million dollars in contributions from many of the same corporate developers and their allies who boosted her former boss Jack Johnson. Working families have every right to ask what big developer contributions to Ms. Alsobrooks will buy.” As for calls that she denounce the We Are Prince George’s mailer, Edwards said: “I have no control over the independent expenditure entity in question; and legally, I am not allowed to, in any way, indicate what they should or should not do.” “I’m proud of the grassroots support fueling my campaign — as it represents contributions from every day Prince Georgians, the folks who teach our children, paint our walls, repair our roadways and clean our hotel rooms,” she continued. In an interview, Alsobrooks said Edwards is having to rely on an outside group for support because she lacks fundraising ability and energy. Alsobrooks had more than $900,000 in her campaign account as of mid-January, compared to just $82,000 for Edwards. New campaign finance reports are due to be released next week. “This is quintessential Donna,” Alsobrooks said. “She is not a great fundraiser or a great campaigner. It takes discipline and it takes hard work and consistency to generate the kind of support that would fund a campaign. And she has not been able to do it.” Alsobrooks said she has 14 unions, representing 65,000 workers, supporting her campaign. The pro-Edwards We Are Prince George’s Super PAC has received most of its funds from the Unite Here! State and Local Fund and the Mid-Atlantic Laborers Political Action Fund, groups Alsobrooks derided as “outsiders.”  “Her campaign is literally being run by an outside interest and she can’t even communicate with the people who are running her campaign,” she said.  Epps called the “outsider” charge false. “I’ve got 3,200 members that work in Prince George’s County and where those members give a quarter an hour to their political fund. That’s not outside money. It’s their money, and they live and work in Prince George’s County. “They’re trying to make us big and scary, that we’re a super PAC and that money’s coming from the outside of the state. It’s as simple as that. … I have to file [campaign reports] every 48 hours. It’s not like we’re hiding anything.”  Alsobrooks said she was tipped off about the controversial mailer over the weekend, by the company hired to print it.  “I got a call from the print shop, and they said, ‘You’re not going to believe how disgraceful this mailer is. I want to give you a heads-up.’” She would not name the firm. [email protected]


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Gloves Come Off in Prince George’s County Over Super PAC Mailer