David D. Smith, chairman of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, who personally purchased the Baltimore Sun this week, funneled $100,000 to a political action committee set up to support the mayoral bid of Sheila Dixon.
His contribution to the Better Baltimore PAC was publicly revealed shortly before the 11:59 p.m. deadline for filing 2023 campaign finance reports.
The contribution – more than 15 times the $6,000 limit for contributions made directly to a candidate’s committee – came through the PAC set up last July by aides to Sophia Silbergeld, a top Democratic Party fundraiser.
PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and others to spend on independent “advocacy” – such as TV advertising, polling and direct mailers – for or against political candidates.
Papers filed at the State Board of Elections say the purpose of the Better Baltimore PAC is “to support” Sheila Dixon.
Yesterday The Brew wrote about an understanding between Dixon and Smith in which the Hunt Valley mogul and a small circle of friends would raise money for Dixon’s mayoral campaign in return for her support of Smith’s conservative agenda, which includes dismantling Baltimore’s Safe Streets program, pushing out Schools Chief Sonja Santelises and other priorities.
Repeatedly in recent months, Dixon has supported these goals at her campaign launch and in interviews and town halls broadcast by Fox45, Sinclair’s local TV channel that is closely monitored by Smith.
In an interview with The Brew yesterday, Dixon denied there was any agreement or arrangement between herself and Smith, who she says she barely knows.
“I don’t have a relationship with David Smith. Let’s get that clear,” she said.
Smith “never contributed money” to her campaign, she said, and former City Councilman Carl Stokes’ account in The Brew of helping arrange for the two to connect last summer “didn’t happen.”
Asked today why a person she didn’t know would be a six-figure contributor to the PAC, Dixon exclaimed, “How do I know what someone contributed to a PAC? I don’t know anything about the PAC!”
“How do I know what someone contributed to a PAC? I don’t know anything about the PAC!” – Sheila Dixon.
Brew: “But yesterday you said you had no relationship with Mr. Smith.”
Dixon: “I said to you that we’re not buddy buddy. The way you asked the question, you act like it was him who pushed me to run and him who contributed to my campaign. I met with a whole lot of people that pushed me to run for mayor. I didn’t have a meeting that said, ‘Oh, Sheila, you need to run, and I’ll raise all this money for you.’ I have to call my finance person and ask about it.”
Brew: “But you had to know about the PAC. It was written about in the Baltimore Banner, who had contacted you.”
Dixon: “The only thing I knew is from the media speculating the PAC was created. Other than that, I had no knowledge of a PAC.”
Brew: “The PAC is in the online elections records. It says its purpose is to support your campaign.”
Dixon: “I was not aware of that. No one discussed that they were creating a PAC for Sheila Dixon.”
Brew: “A final question: Are you still saying you never met with David Smith?”
Dixon: “I had been in a meeting with David and other individuals. But I have never met with him as it relates to him pushing me and saying he was going to raise all this money. That conversation did not happen.”
A second $100,000 contribution to the Better Baltimore PAC was made by John Luetkemeyer, co-founder of Continental Realty Corp., a Baltimore County commercial and residential builder and lessor.
Together with nine other very small donations, the PAC raised $200,065 between July and mid-January, and spent $104,000, including $63,329 to a D.C. polling research group and $22,745.86 to Adeo Advocacy, whose political division is headed by Silbergeld.
This leaves a balance of $96,000, which can be used for TV ads or other promotion on behalf of Dixon and can be supplemented at any time before the May 14 Democratic Party primary, which currently pits Dixon against incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott and businessman Bob Wallace.
In addition to Smith’s $100,000 PAC donation, members of his extended family contributed over $35,000 to Dixon’s regular campaign account, Friends for Sheila Dixon, in recent months.
They include $6,000 from Smith’s brother, Frederick, a vice president at Sinclair; $12,000 from his nephews Alex and Eric Smith, co-owners of Atlas Restaurant Group; $6,000 from Alex Smith’s wife, Christina Ghani; and $12,500 from his brothers-in-law John, Charles and Stephen Paterakis and Paterakis-controlled LLCs.