Fundraising to defeat Maryland’s Dream Act questioned

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It’s not the most high-profile of the ballot questions Maryland residents will vote on next week, but the fight over the Dream Act is drawing partisan bickering between Democrats and Republicans and allegations of fundraising impropriety.

The Maryland Democratic Party announced last week that it has sent a letter to state prosecutors and elections officials, alleging that MDPetitions.com — a conservative group that has helped lead opposition to the proposal to allow in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants — is functioning illegally as a ballot issue committee.

MDPetitions.com led the effort that forced next month’s referendums on the Dream Act and the state’s redrawn congressional map and also opposes a ballot question to legalize same-sex marriage and recently sent mailers to voters urging that they oppose all three questions.

Democrats argue that the group has failed to file campaign-finance reports in accordance with state law, but its leaders say they are being bullied by a party that has tried unsuccessfully to keep the issues off the November ballot and is now out of ideas.

“We’ve done nothing wrong, but the Maryland Democratic Party is on a witch hunt to take out anybody who disagrees with their viewpoints,” said MDPetitions.com Chairman Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington County Republican. “They’re just shooting from the hip trying to intimidate people.”

Earlier this month, state Democrats also accused Help Save Maryland — a group that has bought radio ads opposing the Dream Act — of failing to report its fundraising activity.

“This is a pattern among these Republican-led organizations in Maryland seeking to influence the outcome of a ballot measure while attempting to hide from disclosure laws,” state Democratic Party Executive Director David Sloan said.

According to Maryland law, political committees that are formed specifically to advocate for a political candidate or ballot issue must register with the state before raising or spending any money and then must report their activities to the state.

The leaders of MDPetitions.com and Help Save Maryland argue that their groups were formed before any of the issues were placed on the ballot, making them independent expenditures groups, which are required only to register and file financial reports after spending more than $10,000.

Help Save Maryland Director Brad Botwin said his group has not spent $10,000, while Mr. Parrott said his organization just recently passed the threshold and filed a finance report Friday, which was the state’s deadline.

MDPetitions.com registered itself as an independent expenditures group Oct. 7, according to state records.

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