The Democratic primary for governor took a nasty public turn Tuesday, when author and former nonprofit CEO Wes Moore filed a complaint with two state investigative agencies, accusing “an unidentified party” of anonymously disseminating “false and disparaging information regarding Wes Moore via electronic mail and social media in an orchestrated attempt to disparage Mr. Moore and damage his candidacy.”
The complaint suggested that another candidate for the Democratic nomination, former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., “may be responsible for this smear campaign” — a charge the King campaign denies.
Moore and King are among the 10 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in the July 19 primary.
For weeks, an investigative dossier into Moore’s background has been circulated anonymously by email to Democratic activists, media members, union leaders and others, accusing Moore of fabricating parts of his from-the-bootstraps personal history, which he has described in books, interviews, social media posts and on the campaign trail.
The information has been delivered from the email address [email protected] Maryland Matters sent an email to the address two weeks ago seeking to learn the identity of the sender. There was no response.
In a complaint filed Tuesday with the Maryland State Board of Elections and with the State Prosecutor’s office, Amanda S. La Forge, counsel for Wes Moore for Maryland, alleges that the individual or individuals disseminating the opposition research on Moore have violated campaign finance law because they have used email and Twitter to pass along campaign “misinformation” without a proper “authority” line that’s required on official campaign documents and social media accounts.
The Moore campaign tracked emails and tweets associated with Honest Dems over a period of months. A March 24 communication from the shadowy organization to delegates to last weekend’s Maryland State Education Association convention serves as an example of the message the group has been promulgating about Moore.
The group sought to dissuade the teachers’ union from endorsing Moore, questioning elements of his personal narrative, claiming he supported school voucher programs and that he “sought to enrich himself” by selling his autobiography, “The Other Wes Moore,” to Maryland public schools.
“I hope you will seriously consider the implications of all this and how Republicans will use this to win another general election here in Maryland, since this is where that research came from,” the missive to the teachers’ union delegates said.
Moore wound up winning the influential teachers’ union endorsement with 85% of the vote.
La Forge, a Democratic election lawyer who has held a variety of jobs in Maryland state government, wrote to the state investigatory agencies that communications such as these “were sent in knowing and willful violation of Maryland campaign finance law.”
“The sender went to great lengths to conceal the true source of the email communication by removing identifying metadata from the attachments and purposefully omitting the required authority lines,” the complaint said.
The campaign’s letter goes on to allege that the King campaign is responsible for spreading the information about Moore and asks the Board of Elections and the state prosecutor to “take immediate action to investigate and sanction this unlawful behavior and to ensure full compliance with the law.”
The Moore campaign bases its allegations on a request for public information from the Baltimore City Board of Elections, which found that a researcher employed by the King campaign last year had requested documents on Moore’s voting history. Some of that research was then featured in the Honest Dems’ dossier on Moore.
The campaign’s complaint cites the 2012 criminal conviction of Julius Henson, a notorious political strategist who was found guilty of orchestrating a misleading Election Day robocall in 2010 and not including an authority line in the call, as precedent for investigating and pursuing criminal charges against the perpetrator of the Honest Dems email and Twitter account, which has now been deleted.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the King campaign denied that the campaign is responsible for the Honest Dems communications.
“The King-Siri campaign did not authorize the dissemination of the document at the center of this complaint by the Moore campaign, nor does the King-Siri campaign know who is behind it,” the statement said. “The items alleged in the documents do raise serious questions about many statements Moore has made and we hope, Mr. Moore will address these and Marylanders will take a serious look at and properly vet all the candidates in this race, as it is critical that Democrats have a candidate who can win in November.”
In its public complaint filed with the state elections board and the state prosecutor, the Moore campaign attaches some of the opposition research that has been circulating about the candidate. It includes allegations that Moore, who by his own admission split his time between Maryland and New York when he was growing up, has exaggerated his ties to Baltimore and did not live there full-time until he was a student at Johns Hopkins University. Using voting and Motor Vehicle Administration records, the dossier suggests that Moore for years used his mother’s home in Pasadena to vote and obtain a driver’s license.
The anti-Moore dossier asserts that the candidate, whose father died when he was 3 years old, is promoting a false narrative about his biography, and has used it to write a best-selling book, attract venture capital funding for various projects, and land a job as CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation in New York. The Honest Dems file also claims that Moore has exaggerated his childhood economic circumstances, suggesting that his mother, rather than struggling financially after her husband’s death, “was a successful TV producer, writer, journalist and public relations professional that was able to afford sending multiple children to private school.”
The Honest Dems dossier quotes at length from Moore’s best-selling book, “The Other Wes Moore,” TV and print interviews, and other source material in an attempt to point out what it describes as numerous contradictions to the candidate’s autobiographical narrative.
The Moore campaign on Tuesday launched a website, factsmd.com, that seeks to rebut the anonymous accusations and offers a timeline on Moore’s “childhood and connection to Baltimore.” It also includes video interviews and excerpts from Moore’s book.
“I did not go into this naively, I understand that politics can be toxic,” Moore said in a statement. “But to attack my childhood, my connection with my home – to claim my mother, an immigrant who watched her husband die, did not really struggle – is so callous and repulsive. And to do it illegally and anonymously is not something we are going to tolerate.”
It’s unusual, but not unheard of, for candidates to release unflattering information about themselves. Often it’s a sign of a campaign attempting to get ahead of an investigative piece that is about to land in a media outlet. Given the existence of the opposition research on Moore that has been passed around for weeks, it would not be surprising if such a piece is in the works. Unlike the other leading Democratic candidates for governor, Moore does not have a long record of government service, which invites more scrutiny of his personal history.
Moore strategists say that in filing a complaint with two state agencies — and by disclosing some of the information that is being used against the candidate — the campaign is showing the extent to which it is willing to fight back when unsubstantiated rumors are being introduced into the political bloodstream. They argued that the rules of engagement are often different for high-profile Black candidates and that the campaign does not intend to sit back and let anonymous and unsavory actors define Moore.
Coincidentally, King served on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation for the entirety of Moore’s tenure as CEO — and remains on the board to this day.