The Frederick County Republican Central Committee was planning to lend thousands of dollars to Donald Trump’s campaign in Maryland, where the billionaire presidential candidate faces long odds of winning.
The committee's chairman, Billy Shreve, said the planned expense was canceled. But while it was considered, the nearly $12,000 loan would have represented a significant majority of the committee’s coffers, campaign finance and central committee records show.
Instead, the Maryland Republican Party picked up the expense — because the donation would have violated Federal Election Commission rules. The county central committee made an initial payment, later refunded, without registering an FEC number and without disclosing the expense within the federal campaign finance reporting system.
“I told them, ‘No, you can’t do it,’ so we did it,” said Joseph C. Cluster, executive director of the state party, who was recently sworn in as a state delegate for Baltimore County.
The proposed loan represents a clash between two of Shreve’s roles: central committee chairman and co-chairman of the Trump campaign in Frederick County. He is also an at-large member of the Frederick County Council.
Coffers down from last year
In late April, the committee had about $15,843 in the bank, state campaign finance records show. By early August, the committee had a bank account balance of $8,586, with almost $7,000 in pending expenses, according to a central committee report.
Among those expenses was a planned payment for “printing of Trump signs” of $5,888.
State finance records also show that a $6,000 check from the county central committee had already been delivered to an Ellicott City sign-maker in late July.
If the full amount of the loan had gone through the county central committee, the organization would have had about $1,770 in the bank, down from $16,305 at the start of the year, records show.
Shreve said this month that loans to the Trump campaign never went through, despite the state finance report showing the expense.
“We were going to lend them money and then get reimbursed, but it didn’t end up happening that way,” Shreve said.
He said if the committee’s coffers dropped to below $2,000, he would not have been concerned because the committee should spend money to support candidates in an election year.
Shreve said the Trump campaign planned to fund a Maryland operation in September. He wanted to use the county committee’s money to start printing signs before then.
“They were going to spend the money Sept. 1. If we were able to get the money quicker, we would be able to get the signs out faster,” Shreve said.
He said the loan fit into the central committee’s goal of helping Republicans win, all along the ballot.
“The goal is to get people elected,” Shreve said.
Messages with three members of the Frederick County Republican Central Committee were not immediately returned on Wednesday evening.
Two other members — Darren Wigfield and Mike Bowersox — referred comments to Shreve.
Shreve said a majority of the central committee -- in an email vote -- voted to approve the initial expense, though he did not know the vote count.
Shreve said the central committee worked closely with other organizations to promote down-ballot candidates this election year.
The women’s club printed a popular two-sided handout that features Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, on one side and each of the local Republican candidates in the Nov. 8 election on the other.
The central committee has used donated space in Amie Hoeber’s campaign office this season.
“It’s been one of the best campaigns ever in terms of party unity,” Shreve said.
Potential rebound with refund, fair
After fundraising at The Great Frederick Fair and the cancellation of the loan, the central committee’s finances may be substantially increased.
The committee sold 1,400 Trump-Pence signs for $3 each at the fair. Other Trump items sold included 75 hats, 35 T-shirts, 100 buttons and more than 400 bumper stickers.
The fair, which was in September, may end up being the committee’s largest moneymaker this year.
“It should have been our biggest fundraiser of the year, for sure,” Shreve said.
Between Jan. 1, 2016, and Aug. 23, the committee raised $1,928 this year, according to state finance reports.
Earlier this year, the committee canceled the annual Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner, which typically would be the biggest fundraiser of the year, and replaced it with a Free Speech event at Flying Dog Brewery.
Contributions from that event have not yet been reported through the state’s campaign finance system.
The next campaign finance report is due Oct. 28.
Shreve said the report will reflect the full $6,000 refund.
The state committee’s contribution for the Trump signs is already reflected in the organization’s September monthly report to the FEC.
The state committee's $6,000 check was paid on Aug. 16 and the $5,888.30 check was paid on Aug. 30, according to the report.
Cluster said before learning of the Frederick County central committee’s planned loan, the state did not plan to make those or any similar expenses. They are the only payments the state party made to directly benefit the Trump campaign this year, he said.
“It was something people wanted, so we went ahead and did it ...,” Cluster said. “Look, central committees — sometimes they get excited about things.”