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Government & Politics

Davis vows to keep fundraising as treasurer

Treasurer Dereck Davis (D). File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Maryland State Treasurer Dereck Davis (D) has not been on a ballot in five years but that has not stopped him from soliciting and accepting campaign contributions.

The nearly $44,000 Davis collected last year is all part of an effort by the 56-year-old treasurer to stay prepared should political opportunity knock. While his fundraising efforts are a break from the practice of recent state treasurers, they are completely legal.

“The only time that we force closure, and say you have to file a final report and dispose of all surplus funds, is after eight years,” said State Elections Administrator Jared DeMarinis.

Under state law, a candidate has eight years to close their state campaign account. That clock starts running on the day the candidate last appears on the ballot or when they leave office, whichever comes later.

“In those eight years, the law allows them to be a functioning candidate,” DeMarinis said. “They can raise money. They’re candidates under the law.”

For Davis, his eight years started on Dec. 17, 2021, when he left the House of Delegates and was sworn in as treasurer, a job bestowed on him by the General Assembly. Win or lose, if he runs for office between now and the end of 2029 that deadline resets.

Other former lawmakers currently have campaign accounts, according to the most recent state campaign finance disclosures. All show signs that they are winding down fundraising activities and closing out their accounts.

Davis, in an interview, said he will continue raising money and pondering his political prospects.

“For me, I’m looking at it as this is my season to be in the treasurer’s office,” Davis said. “I’m not looking to go anywhere else. But you never know what the future holds.”

After raising no money in 2022, Davis reported raising nearly $44,000 last year, according to the most recent campaign filing delivered in mid-January.

Davis has not raised a penny during the 90-day legislative sessions, according to his filings, since becoming treasurer.

While in the General Assembly, Davis and the other 187 lawmakers were legally barred from soliciting or accepting campaign cash during the session. The same rule applies to the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general.

No such prohibition exists for the office of treasurer.

For his part, Davis said he, as treasurer, voluntarily honored the blackout period imposed on him as a legislator.

“I’m going to honor the spirit of it,” said Davis, adding that the lack of a ban on the treasurer is “just a loophole. That’s not my thing.”

But Davis added he would not object to adding his office to the list of those that cannot fundraise during the legislative session.

“The reality is, whether there’s legislation or not, I’m going to honor it,” he said.

Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, the government watchdog group, said she was surprised to learn the law does not already bar a treasurer from raising money during the legislative session. She applauded Davis for pledging to not raise money during that period.

“All of our state leaders should be held to the same standards,” said Antoine. “Treasurer Davis is taking the right action here. They should follow through and codify what he’s already doing either this session or next.”

Of key concern is Davis’ membership on the Board of Public Works, a three-member panel that doles out lucrative government contracts, which includes the comptroller and is chaired by the governor. Both of those officials are already prohibited from raising money during the 90-day session.

But such bans don’t completely eliminate the potential for conflicts. At the end of the blackout period, fundraising resumes. Other than limits imposed on donations by state law, companies with business before the board or the legislature are free to donate.

In fact, it is common for donations from lobbyists and corporations to fall along the lines of policy matters that each of the 10 standing committees in the House and Senate individually oversee.

As the former chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, Davis held tremendous power over alcohol policies. Even now his campaign donations reflect those previous connections.

“I think what he’d want to do is avoid any appearance that he’s in some way benefiting if a contract is approved,” said Antoine. “I think that might be a stretch. I think maybe another good example is that the Board of Public Works oversees the sale of certain properties. It’s important to make sure that he in no way looks like he is benefitting from deals worked out with the individuals that might purchase these properties.”

Overall, Davis’ report does not indicate a strong push for money for another office. He finished with roughly $16,000 less than he started the year with — much of that went to cover the costs of fundraising consultants.

“They would know it if I were really trying to get after it,” said Davis. “I was one of the better fundraisers and I know how to do it if I really need to turn it up a notch. So again, it was just preparation, staying ready.”

Davis is considered to be a possible contender for Prince George’s County executive should Angela Alsobrooks win her 2024 U.S. Senate race and must vacate the county office. Even if she isn’t elected to the Senate, she is termed out of her county job in 2026.

“I’m honestly not looking at the county executive race,” Davis said. “People have approached me in the county about it. It’s flattering that folks think I could do the job. but I really haven’t given it a thought. The only conversations I’ve had are when people bring it up to me. I sort of politely let them know that I’m just focused on the job that I’m doing.”

Job has generally been filled by elder statesmen

The treasurer is not an office that receives a lot of attention for campaign fundraising, since treasurers are elected by the legislature and are considered the lawmakers’ representative on the Board of Public Works.

Those elected to the position, especially in the last 50 years, had moved on from elected office and generally were highly experienced government officials. There was no further need to raise money.

Davis is the 24th state treasurer but just the sixth since the position became a full-time job in 1973. He was 54 when the General Assembly elected him treasurer — the youngest since 1973.

The first was J. Millard Tawes. At 79, Tawes was at the sunset of his career, having already served two terms as governor. Before that, he served twice as comptroller for 17 years. He also served two years as secretary of the Department of Natural Resources after leaving the governor’s mansion.

Nancy Kopp, Davis’ predecessor, was 59 when she started the first of her nearly two decades as treasurer. Prior to that, she spent 27 years in the House of Delegates. Kopp was sworn in to her first term in the House in 1975, the same year Tawes left the treasurer’s office.

In between, Treasurer William James, the former Senate president, was 60 when he assumed office. Lucille Maurer, a former Montgomery County Democratic lawmaker, was 65 when she became the state’s first woman treasurer and later resigned due to health reasons. Richard Dixon, a Carroll County Democrat in the House and first Black man to be elected to treasurer, was 58 when he was elected to replace Maurer as treasurer.

None saw the need to raise money.

“I think the reason why is because the treasurer’s office was considered a retirement home, and the treasurer didn’t need to fundraise,” Davis said.

Davis said he is not yet ready to retire.

Davis was younger when he was sworn in as treasurer than his five predecessors. For now, he is bucking the fundraising trend.

“I’m 56 years old now,” said Davis. “I guess there’s always been this thought that the treasurer’s office was some retirement home or something that you go there to wind it down.”

It also means there will be more eyes on who is filling his campaign coffers. There are also questions about when Davis should be allowed to raise money.

As of Davis’ most recent report, $1 of every $3 — excluding political action committee and candidate transfers — came from Annapolis lobbyists, according to a review of the most recent filing.

Contributors include well-known Annapolis lobbyists Bruce Bereano, Frank Boston, Joe Bryce, David Carroll, Gerry Evans, P.J. Hogan, Lisa Harris Jones, Nick Manis, Joel Rozner as well as the firms Pica & Associates, G.S. Proctor & Associates and Rifkin Weiner Livingston.

“I had a far wider-ranging impact as chair of Economic Matters than I will ever have as treasurer for the state of Maryland,” he said. “Most of the people that’s probably on my report, or my most recent reports, will have little if anything to come before BPW. They’re supporting me because of how long they’ve known me. They’re not trying to influence. That’s not to say that something may not come up, but the vast majority of them, they’ve just known me forever. They support me. I’m doing it [fundraising]. They said OK and wrote a check.”


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Davis vows to keep fundraising as treasurer