Delegate’s Chief of Staff Charged for Misleading Robocall in 2018 GOP Primary

    Del. Richard K. Impallaria’s campaign released a robocall in June that purported to highlight the House of Delegates minority whip’s support for the transgender community — but the call has run afoul of Maryland’s election law.

    The Office of the State Prosecutor charged Impallaria’s chief of staff, Tyler Walch, on Thursday with two counts of violating state election law because the calls failed to disclose who paid for and who authorized the message.

    The call was made to 9,000 Baltimore and Harford County residents on June 25, the day before the 2018 primary election. At the time, Impallaria and House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, another incumbent delegate, were among 13 Republican candidates in a crowded race to represent District 7, which includes parts of Harford and Baltimore counties. Impallaria and Szeliga have long been at odds.

    The message told voters that Szeliga, who voted against a bill in 2015 that prohibited gender discrimination based on gender identity, was a supporter of the transgender community.

    The text of the call was released by the Office of the State Prosecutor:

    “Hi this is Ali, a donor to the national Center for Transgender Equality calling to ask you to support Delegate Kathy Szeliga in tomorrow’s Republican Primary Election. Kathy Szeliga is a true friend of the Transgender Community having voted for House Bill 1003 making it illegal to discriminate against Transgendered persons in the workplace. With the support of lawmakers willing work across the aisle like Kathy Szeliga, Transgenders will soon be able to use the bathrooms of their choice. Again this is Ali calling to ask you to support Kathy Szeliga, a friend of the transgender community. Thank you!”

    Szeliga was one of many conservatives who opposed the 2015 bill, largely focusing the debate on the use of public bathrooms.

    State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said in a statement Thursday that the goal of the call was to mislead voters, which was compounded by the missing authority line.

    “This message not only failed to provide the information required by Maryland law, it attempted to deliberately deceive voters by providing misleading information,” Davitt said. “Maryland voters are entitled to know what person or group is responsible for such material, particularly when it is published and distributed one day before the Primary Election. The credibility of the messenger is an essential factor in evaluating the value of the message.”

    The charges in the case allege that Walch communicated the contents of the call to Impallaria before the message was disseminated.

    Each count against Walch carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    Impallaria’s office did not immediately respond Thursday to calls and an email.

    Szeliga issued a statement about the charges Thursday afternoon.
    “All politics and personalities aside, willfully and knowingly misleading voters is shameful and wrong. Election laws exist for a reason, to protect the integrity of our elections,” Szeliga said. “Beyond the act itself, the content of the call was insulting to voters and incredibly divisive. I’m old school, I believe anonymous acts are often a sign of cowardice. If you have something to say, and you believe what you’re saying, you should put your name on it.”
    Both candidates made it through the Republican primary, with Szeliga garnering the most votes of the Republican field.
    This is not Impallaria’s first brush with controversy. In 2017, the delegate served two days in jail after being found guilty of driving while intoxicated in Ocean City in 2016, during the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference. Impallaria, who was served in the chamber since 2003, lost leadership positions in the House Republican caucus and within his county delegation after news of the arrest.

     

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.