Delegate questions spate of negative ads in Prince George’s House Race

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For the first time in more than a decade, two long-time elected officials in Prince George’s County aren’t on the ballot — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t busy boosting candidates and trying to influence elections in their legislative district.

A series of text messages this week attacked Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D), who is not seeking re-election in Bowie-based District 23, and attempted to discourage voters from supporting her favored candidates.

“Last year, Geraldine Valentino Smith voted with Republicans to keep more budgetary power in the Governor’s Office, rather than distribute it to the General Assembly,” said one message from the Twenty-Third District Team Slate, which Valentino-Smith was once a part of.

“…Now she’s leaving Annapolis in disgrace, and supporting other candidates like Adrian Boafo, another budget bungler, to replace her,” the message continued. It referred to Boafo, a Bowie city councilmember and one of 10 Democrats seeking three House seats in District 23.

The message and at least one other like it were delivered during early voting — and when candidates from rival campaigns were all gathered at the same voting center. Multiple candidates on the District 23 slate denied knowing about or authorizing the messages before they were sent, Boafo and Valentino-Smith said they were told.

In light of the denials, Valentino-Smith sent a letter to the Office of the Attorney General on Friday, and asked the office to review the messages to determine if there was an unauthorized use of the campaign committee’s authority line.

“If these messages were not authorized by the appropriate individuals of the state registered campaign committee, this could be considered a serious breach of fair and transparent electioneering and constitute election tampering,” she wrote.

The slate’s chairperson and treasurer list the same phone number on State Board of Elections paperwork. That phone number consistently led to a busy signal Thursday through Saturday.

The slate, which was established in 2011, has included dozens of members during its existence. Members running for General Assembly did not return voicemails.

Most recently, the slate’s wealth is thanks to former Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D), who primarily funded the committee this cycle. When Peters resigned from the Maryland Senate in July 2021, he donated $160,000 of the $262,565 left in his campaign bank account to the slate. He also gave $6,000 to Valentino-Smith, and smaller sums to other colleagues.

The slate’s officers previously worked as consultants for Peters’ campaign.

Through one of his companies, The Peters Group, the former senator has shared his endorsements of candidates on the slate this summer. Though he is now a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, Peters’ messages are signed by “Senator Doug Peters.”

Boafo is not among those endorsed by the slate. The slate currently consists of Sen. Ron Watson (D), who was elevated from the House to the Senate after Peters resigned, Del. Marvin Holmes (D), the only incumbent in the 10-candidate House primary, and two political newcomers, Kym Taylor and Jocelyn Irene Collins.

Boafo, in an interview, said “negative ads in the 23rd haven’t really worked.” His job between now and Tuesday, Boafo said, is “to make sure we get the coalition we’ve built across the finish line.”

Reached by phone, Valentino-Smith said: “Negative ads are part of our political business. But election tampering by misuse of an authority line is a new low for Maryland politics, if that is the case.”

Similarly phrased text messages attacking Valentino-Smith and a candidate she endorsed for County Council, Michael Esteve, were sent out this week by the developer-funded Jobs 1st super PAC.

Peters, in an interview, said he was not involved in the negative messaging by the district slate. His involvement in the Jobs 1st PAC, which does not support or oppose any state-level candidates, is limited to his interest as a small business owner and former county chamber president, Peters said.

That PAC paid $5,000 to Peters’ daughter, Natalie, for campaign materials earlier this month.

Peters’ political career began in 1998, when he was elected to the Bowie city council for four years. He then spent four years on the Prince George’s County Council before being elected to the Senate in 2006.

Valentino-Smith served on the Bowie city council from 2007 to 2010 before being elected to the House of Delegates. Holmes was elected to the House in 2002, but most everyone else seeking a House seat in District 23 is a political newcomer.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include a comment from Douglas J.J. Peters.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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