President Joe Biden's nominee for the Federal Election Commission served as the campaign lawyer for a former Baltimore mayor charged with fraud for funneling the proceeds from her children's book series to her campaign.
Dara Lindenbaum represented Democrat Catherine Pugh in Pugh's mayoral campaign in 2016. Lindenbaum handled compliance and recount issues for Pugh, according to news reports and campaign finance records. Pugh went on to win the election but resigned in May 2019, months before a federal grand jury indicted her on fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy charges.
Pugh defrauded purchasers of her children's book series, Healthy Holly, and used some of the proceeds to fund her campaign. Pugh and an aide funneled $36,000 from the book sales to her mayoral campaign. The aide, Gary Brown, was charged in January 2017 with campaign finance violations for funneling $18,000 in straw donations to Pugh. Pugh was sentenced in February 2020 to three years in prison.
Pugh is far from Lindenbaum's only controversial client. Lindenbaum also served as general counsel to Stacey Abrams's failed 2018 gubernatorial campaign. After Abrams's loss, Lindenbaum sued the state of Georgia, challenging the constitutionality of the election and claiming that "unreliable" voting machines "switched" votes from Abrams to Gov. Brian Kemp (R.). Lindenbaum during an April 6 Senate hearing confirmed that she signed on to a "legal pleading alleging that the machines used in Georgia in 2018 were switching votes illegally from one candidate to another." Lindenbaum refused to say during the hearing whether "stolen election" claims undermine faith in democracy.
While there is no indication of wrongdoing on Lindenbaum's part during her work for Pugh, her failure to identify the illegal campaign activity—and her willingness to argue that an election was stolen if Democrats lose—calls into question her qualifications to serve at a federal agency tasked with overseeing campaign compliance.
"It is extremely disturbing that Biden would nominate a Member to the FEC with a history of directly working with corrupt Baltimore politician Catherine Pugh, who fraudulently violated campaign finance laws and went to jail for it," said Matt Buckham, the founder of the American Accountability Foundation, a watchdog group that has tracked Biden nominees.
Lindenbaum has worked since 2013 for Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, where she "counsels clients on complying with state and federal campaign finance and election laws; ethics and gift rules; and lobbying and ethics compliance," according to her LinkedIn profile.
Pugh's campaign in 2016 paid Sandler Reiff more than $11,382 for "compliance" and "administrative" services, according to state campaign finance records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
Lindenbaum spoke for the Pugh campaign during a fight over ballot issues in the Democratic primary. The lawyer accused supporters of Pugh's challenger, Sheila Dixon, of engaging in voter intimidation ahead of the primary.
"This is a shameful tactic and reminiscent of tactics the Republicans took in the 1980s to intimidate voters," Lindenbaum told the Baltimore Sun. "The Democrats fought back then, and we are fighting back now."
Dixon's allies fired back, accusing the Pugh campaign of paying voters to show up to the polls. Two voters accused Pugh of running a "scam" after they were hired by the campaign but not paid. They said they were instead forced to show up to vote early for Pugh.
If confirmed, Lindenbaum will replace outgoing commissioner Steve Walther, an independent who typically sides with Democrats on campaign finance cases. Liberal groups have pressured Biden to nominate progressives to the notoriously gridlocked commission in hopes of enacting tougher campaign finance laws.
Lindenbaum did not respond to a request for comment.