A lawsuit over an apple symbol and a $1 million advertising proposal are putting Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s (R) record on education policies front-and-center in the gubernatorial race. On Friday, a political action committee called Maryland Together We Rise unveiled a television ad in support of Democratic nominee Benjamin T. Jealous and said it plans to spend at least $1 million on ads through Election Day.
The ad slated to air on Baltimore channels for the first time Friday ties Hogan’s education policies to President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. On Thursday, teachers unions said they plan to file a lawsuit in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeking an injunction to halt the Hogan campaign’s use of a red apple symbol and the phrase “Teachers for Hogan.”
A new PAC ad tries to link Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The apple controversy began simmering earlier this week after the governor’s campaign revealed a “Teachers for Hogan” bumper sticker.
The Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents roughly 78,000 teachers and has endorsed Jealous, took issue with the imagery and asked the campaign to cease using the phrase and red apple logo, for which the Montgomery County Education Association has a registered service mark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Hogan’s campaign doubled down, filming a staffer delivering a basket of red apples to the MSEA office on Wednesday with a note that said, “There are plenty of apples to go around! Looking forward to working with you over the next four years.” In draft legal documents released Thursday, MSEA Executive Director David E. Helfman called the delivery disruptive and said the Hogan campaign’s maneuvering was a “deliberate attempt to deceive voters” when Hogan had chosen not to take part in the union’s endorsement process this year.
On the Air
Maryland Together We Rise, a super PAC that has been funded by MSEA, the state’s largest health care union and wealthy Democratic donors, said that during Hogan’s time in office, he cut nearly $100 million from public school funding streams and attempted to cut more, but was thwarted by Democrats in the General Assembly. While Hogan boasts record overall spending on education, it’s a claim that can be repeated year after year because the state’s funding formulas increase as enrollment in public schools increases.
Together We Rise said Hogan’s actions, including cuts to after-school and teacher retention programs and increases in spending for a private school voucher program, have been supported federally by Trump and DeVos.
“Maryland public schools must provide equal opportunities for every student in every neighborhood,” said Marvin Randolph, treasurer of Maryland Together We Rise. “But Gov. Hogan has cut funding time and time again for already underfunded public schools that are in desperate need of help – while backing the dangerous education agenda of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos.”
Hogan’s cuts have come at a time when the Kirwan Commission Adequacy Study found that Maryland public schools are annually underfunded by $2.9 billion, “or about $2 million per school on average,” according to a Together We Rise news release.
The ad will run in the Baltimore media market and Maryland Together We Rise plans to air TV ads through Election Day. The Hogan campaign responded to news of the ad by noting that the group’s million-dollar promise comes as it reported just $400,000 cash on hand at the close of the last campaign finance reporting period. The campaign also released a research memo on Thursday picking apart the funding for the Maryland Together We Rise Super PAC, noting that the organization’s funding has come from fewer than 10 unique donors, and that Jealous previously co-founded an NAACP initiative aimed at getting big money out of politics.
Just this week, Jealous picked up the endorsement of End Citizens United, a group dedicated to campaign finance reform. Major donors to the PAC – which by law cannot coordinate activities with the Jealous campaign – include Susan Sandler, a progressive funder from San Francisco who has contributed $500,000; Quinn Delaney, founder of the Akonadi Foundation, which seeks to address structural racism, who gave $150,000; 1199SEIU, the health care workers union, ($500,000); the Maryland State Education Association ($250,000); and, three others, who gave $50,000 each.
“It is not surprising that a day after a poll showing Ben Jealous desperate and near defeat he has called upon a tiny handful of his closest super-wealthy out of state friends to try and bail him out with lies and misrepresentations,” Hogan’s Deputy Campaign Manager Douglass V. Mayer said. “But they are wasting their money because Marylanders know that Governor Hogan has been a champion for our kids and has consistently stood up for Maryland values and interests.”
Back in Court
We’ve been here before.
During the 2014 Democratic primary, the teachers’ union sought to stop then-attorney general Douglas F. Gansler (D) from distributing an apple-shaped ballot stamped with “supported by teachers” and listing a slate of state and county candidates.
The case was settled out of court months after the election. This year, as it does each election season, MSEA sent a letter to all candidates on the November ballot, warning them about use of the apple logo. “Since 2009, the Montgomery County Education Association is the registrant of both the apple and the use of the phrase ‘Teacher Recommended’ in connection with political advocacy. As such, unless your campaign has received the endorsement of MSEA or one of our local affiliates and has permission to use the registered marks, it is illegal to use the phrase, ‘Teacher Recommended’ or any variation of this phrase and/or the apple in your campaign authorized materials,” Helfman wrote to candidates early this month.
Then, on Monday, Helfman caught wind of the Hogan bumper stickers, which feature a big red apple replacing the “O” in Hogan’s name and the phrase “Teachers for Hogan.”
Helfman’s attempt to quash the governor’s use of the apple that day by a call to Hogan’s campaign treasurer was unsuccessful, prompting a back-and-forth between MSEA’s lawyers and Chris Ashby, the attorney representing the Hogan campaign.
“If ‘teachers for’ infringes your mark, then there is no expression of support by a group of teachers for a political candidate that would not be infringing. This cannot be the case. You have a service mark, not a monopoly on public expression and political endorsement by teachers,” Ashby wrote.
Ashby’s letter also noted that the teachers’ union did not prevail in the courtroom during the 2014 dispute.
“If you could not successfully defend your mark against an outright mimicry of your apple ballot in 2014, you will not prevail against our ‘Teachers for Hogan’ bumper stickers now,” Ashby wrote.
He went on to write that the Hogan campaign will defend its use of apple imagery, including by seeking sanctions against MSEA and filing a motion to sanction the union’s attorneys for filing frivolous litigation. The Hogan camp vowed that it would also attempt to cancel the teachers union’s registration of the service mark altogether.
“We reject your demand and will continue to distribute our ‘Teachers for Hogan’ bumper stickers. When they run out, we will order more,” Ashby wrote.
Teachers’ union representatives said the complaint and request for a preliminary injunction would be filed Friday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
“MCEA and MSEA have a legal obligation to vigorously defend this trademark against infringement no matter the candidate or political party. Unfortunately Governor Hogan’s campaign has not been amenable to quickly resolving this matter and we have notified them we intend to file a lawsuit tomorrow morning to protect our trademark,” Adam Mendelsohn, a spokesman for MSEA, said in a statement Thursday evening.
Scott Sloofman, a spokesman for the Hogan campaign responded: “This is a completely frivolous lawsuit, solely calculated to trample on the First Amendment rights of our campaign and teachers across the state. The fact is thousands of teachers throughout Maryland support Governor Hogan because they know he’s always fought for them, and they will not be silenced by MSEA’s attempt to intimidate them.”
Meanwhile, both campaigns are accelerating their rate of rolling out endorsements.
Hogan continues to score surprisingly well with unions — far better than most Republicans. On Thursday, he picked up endorsements from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals 2563 and 582 in Anne Arundel County. The union’s state organization is backing Jealous.
Jealous continues to rack up support from leading national Democrats and potential presidential candidates.
Jealous announced Thursday that he is being backed by Julian Castro, secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Obama. On Friday, he is scheduled to appear in Baltimore with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), at an event meant to highlight women in business.