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The Nose

No Money

Posted 3/8/2006

While poking around campaign-finance records recently, the Nose stumbled across an unusual twist on the political game: a politician who quit raising money. City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch (D-13th District), who chairs the Urban Affairs Committee and has been on the council since 1991, has no active fundraising committee. The most recent one, the Advisory Committee to Re-Elect Paula Johnson Branch, was closed just after the city’s last general election, in late November 2004, according to elections records.

“I don’t have one,” Branch says when asked the status of her campaign fundraising apparatus, adding that at the moment she is not raising money to run a campaign. The next scheduled elections for city offices are in 2007.

Branch is the only member of the council not to have a campaign account. Why? “I’m sure you’re familiar with what’s been going on,” she notes. And the Nose is—Momoh Abu Conteh, a former treasurer of one of Branch’s previous campaign committees, has been charged with theft, embezzlement, and perjury in connection with her campaign spending and is scheduled for trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court on March 20, according to court records. The account handled by Conteh, Supporters of Paula Johnson Branch, filed its last report in March 2004, which closed it retroactively back to November 2001.

“I’ll find a treasurer—a dependable one—when I’m ready to raise funds, and I’m not ready” at the moment, Branch concludes.

The list of witnesses in the upcoming Conteh trial includes the councilwoman, state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-44th District), and officials involved in their campaign committees, including Marie Washington. Rather than being undependable, as Branch implies, Conteh contends that the $2,000 he allegedly stole was, in fact, handled just as Branch ordered him to handle it: in cash, on the eve of the 2002 primary election. That’s when Conteh says he delivered the cash to Marie Washington for use by the McFadden Team, an account supporting a slate of candidates—including Conteh himself, who was running for the Democratic State Central Committee in McFadden’s district. Conteh had been a personnel administrator for the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development until the scandal unfolded last fall, after which he was put on unpaid leave.

“The reason why Branch ordered Mr. Conteh to deliver the money in cash,” Conteh’s attorney, Steven Silverman, tells the Nose, “will become crystal clear once the defense is presented” at trial. Silverman predicts the trial will be postponed.

In the meantime, Branch has no political money at all, and no legal way to raise it. “People have been wanting to give me money,” she maintains. “But I don’t have an account, so they’ll just have to wait.”

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