As Baltimore mayor scandal drags on, donors want their money back

As Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's indefinite home leave drags on, donors to her reelection campaign - which has raised more than $1 million - say they want their money back.

Pugh has been holed up in her three-story house for more than a month as a scandal into whether she used bulk sales of her self-published children's book to disguise kickbacks unfolds.

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The first-term Democratic mayor is facing a growing chorus of calls to resign but has retreated inside her home on paid leave from her $185,000 job. Her lawyer says she's too fragile to make a decision about her future but residents - and donors - are quickly tiring of her open-ended retreat.

“I have requested the Committee to Retain Catherine E. Pugh return my contribution to her campaign in full,” said former state Del. Connie DeJuliis of Baltimore County, who gave $3,000 to Pugh in 2016 for her successful run and $2,000 for a recent fundraiser. “I am disappointed in the mayor’s lack of judgment, to say nothing of her lack of integrity.”

Pugh’s campaign manager, Steven Sibel, told The Baltimore Sun that the campaign committee is "reviewing the options provided under the law regarding campaign contributions, and it will be making a determination in the near future as to whether and how funds may be distributed.”

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TV crews report form outside the house of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in Baltimore, MD., Thursday, April 25, 2019.

TV crews report form outside the house of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in Baltimore, MD., Thursday, April 25, 2019. (AP)

If Pugh decides not to run for a second term, Maryland law gives her three options for the cash she's collected, including keeping the money for up to eight years in case she wants to run again.

If she decides to call it quits, she must first pay off all her debts and expenses. Then, she can either give back all the contributions to donors on a prorated basis or dole out the money to a variety of organizations including the state party, the Baltimore City Central Committee or Maryland's Fair Campaign Finance Fund, Jared DeMarinis, campaign finance director at the Maryland State Board of Elections said.

State law also spells out that Pugh cannot use the money on herself or to pay her lawyers.

Baltimore resident James DeGraffenreidt told the Sun he wants his $2,000 back and doesn't like the idea of the campaign acting as an intermediary.

“They should send me a check back,” DeGraffenreidt said.

Pugh's lawyer Steven Silverman says he's been discussing Pugh's next steps with her but maintains she is too ill to make a decision. It's an excuse that's getting old with some residents and lawmakers who want answers.

State Sen. Jill Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored an initial reform bill that exposed alleged "self-dealing" by Pugh and other members of a Maryland medical system's board, says Silverman should produce some kind of documentation from the mayor's physician.

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"I imagine she is under tremendous strain which has only exacerbated her health problems. We have to take Mr. Silverman at his word, as he is an officer of the court," Carter said. But "at the very least, he should produce a statement from a doctor as to her actual medical diagnosis, mental and physical."