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Mooney alleges illegal activity by political group

April 22, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Organizers of the "Defeat Mooney Committee" took steps to register as a political action committee on Friday, the same day election officials referred a complaint about the group to state prosecutors.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, called for an investigation Thursday, alleging the committee has been operating an illegal fund-raising organization to help Del. Sue Hecht in her bid to unseat him in the November election.

"Sue Hecht has barely launched her campaign and she is already establishing a slush fund for illegal campaign activity," Mooney alleged.

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Hecht says there's no affiliation between her campaign and the Defeat Mooney Committee.

"If other people feel passionately enough to do something independent, that's their choice. That's their job. We run a positive campaign," said Hecht's Campaign Manager Sue Tuckwell.

Hecht said she didn't know anything about the group until she read a press release by Mooney on Thursday.

Groups that raise and spend money to campaign for or against a political candidate must be registered with the state or local election board, said Ross Goldstein, director of the Division of Candidacy and Campaign Finance.

There's no evidence the committee has raised any money or spent anything other than what it took to register a Web site.

The definition of "political committee" doesn't specify the fund-raising aspect but it is implied, Goldstein said. Free speech under the Constitution allows individuals to voice their opinions.

Goldstein decided Friday there was enough information to refer the matter to the Office of Maryland State Prosecutor, which investigates alleged abuses of election law.

The result of an investigation will not be made public unless it results in criminal charges, said Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Michael McDonough.

Meanwhile, Fred Michel of Frederick, Md., began the process of registering the Defeat Mooney Committee with the elections board Friday, Goldstein said.

Michel did not return phone calls Thursday and Friday. Both campaigns said Michel is a registered Republican.

The committee bought the rights to the Web site address www.defeatmooney.com in January, according to records available on the Internet. The site was still under construction Friday.

On Friday, Mooney's campaign manager released a statement challenging Hecht's assertion that she is not connected with the committee.

"Sue Hecht and this shadow group got caught with their hand in the jar. They are denying the facts even while they scurry to comply with the law," Erin DeLullo said.

The statement made an unsubstantiated allegation that www.defeatmooney.com was openly discussed at Frederick County Democratic Party meetings.

"It's more Mooney Toons," Tuckwell said in response. "We're going to stand by our original statement."

Tuckwell said Mooney's attacks are an attempt to distract voters from the real issues of the campaign.

Staff writer Andrea Brown-Hurley contributed to this story.

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