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Thursday  •  September 3, 2020

An Analysis of the 2020 HCPSS Board of Education Election Campaign Finance Data

By Steven Keller


Presented here is an analysis of campaign finance data for the 2020 HCPSS Board of Education election, with data current through the most recent campaign finance reporting date of August 25, 2020.  Relevant charts are at the end of this post.


Total contributions for the “Election Campaign Funding” candidate pie charts were limited to only donations from individuals, businesses, PACs, political party election campaign treasury transfers, and self-loans & donations. In-kind donations were listed separately at the bottom of the section for each candidate.


There’s plenty of valuable information to take from these charts — here are some observations on donor #s and donations by individual donors:

  • An important upfront note is that District 5 candidate Cindy Vaillancourt’s official policy up to this point has been to not take any campaign donations. She is using the $4,000 of self-loans in 2010, carried over from her past 3 campaigns, and $4,000 in self-loans taken out in 2020 to manage her current campaign. This explains why she is at either the bottom or the top of most of the charts presented here regarding donation amounts & percentages.


  • Christina Delmont-Small, Sezin Palmer and Yun Lu have a significantly higher # of individual donors than all other candidates. The # of individual HoCo donors for Sezin Palmer is 84% higher than Jen Mallo and the # of individual HoCo donors for Christina Delmont-Small is almost 500% higher than Matthew Molyett.


  • Christina Delmont-Small, Sezin Palmer and Yun Lu also have the highest percentage of their individual donor funding originating from Howard County residents. All other candidates have at least 3 times as much of their individual donor funding originating from donors who live outside Howard County.


  • District 2 candidate Antonia Watts has a staggering 50% of her overall individual donor funding from donors who don’t live in Howard County.


  • Here’s an important note: For Christina Delmont-Small, Sezin Palmer and Yun Lu, the total funding received from individual HoCo-based donors can technically be considered even higher, since the large donations from the Chinese American Parent Association (CAPA) PAC actually represent donations from a specific number of individual Chinese-American Howard County parent stakeholders, consolidated into a lump sum donation (e.g. for Sezin Palmer, her $6,000 donation from CAPA PAC came from 66 individual Chinese-American HCPSS parents/stakeholders).


Here’s my perspective (opinion):


The above observations demonstrate significant grassroots interest in Christina Delmont-Small, Sezin Palmer and Yun Lu. Their rivals all have at least 20% of their individual donor funding from people who live outside Howard County. Antonia Watts’ 50% of individual funding coming from outside Howard County is a concern, though this may be explained by heavy donations coming from outside HoCo family members.


What we’re seeing this year is an extremely motivated voting constituency across HoCo who have been terribly shaken by the recent actions of the HCPSS Board of Education and Superintendent Martirano, starting with a terribly disruptive & divisive Fall 2019 redistricting and then moving on to the contentious budget season, the Covid-19 shutdown virtual learning issues, re-opening planning controversies and more. Every HCPSS stakeholder has been impacted in some serious way(s) and is keenly aware of how important this upcoming election is for the future of HCPSS.


The unprecedented number of individual HoCo donors coming out to directly support Christina Delmont-Small, Sezin Palmer and Yun Lu are demonstrating that they feel these candidates will be the best community-appointed leaders to guide HCPSS through these difficult times. With eyes having been opened to the influences that special interests have been playing in HCPSS affairs, there is now particular emphasis on supporting those candidates who are least likely to be influenced by these special interests (such as local developers) and least likely to approach their BOE position as merely an extension of the partisan platform of local & national political parties.




Now for some observations on self-loans and special interest/partisan political donations:


  • When in-kind donations are included, Jen Mallo has received the highest overall campaign contributions of any candidate. This is interesting and ironic, considering that the blog author and the majority of those most aggressively attempting to shame hundreds of HoCo residents, particularly those in District 5 and the River Hill HS district, for contributing generous donations to the 2020 HCPSS Board of Education candidate campaigns are also vocal public supporters and campaign volunteers for Jen Mallo. (as detailed here )


  • 51% of Jen Mallo’s total cash contributions came from self-loans ($15,000), almost double what any other candidate who accepted campaign donations took, and 15 times more than what her District 4 rival, Sezin Palmer, took in self-loans ($1,000).


  • Matthew Molyett and Larry Pretlow also relied significantly on self-loans. 60% of Molyett’s total campaign contributions came from self-loans, and 49% for Pretlow.


  • Almost 80% (over $23,000) of Jen Mallo’s campaign contributions came from self-loans, partisan political campaign treasury transfers, and her top 10 donors.


Candidates who received donations from partisan political campaign treasury transfers:

  • Jen Mallo: $1,000 from State Senator Clarence Lam, $1,000 from District 12 representative Terri Hill, and $100 from Frank Turner

  • Matthew Molyett: $1,000 from District 12 representative Terri Hill

  • Antonia Watts: $100 from Frank Turner


Candidates who received donations from local developers:

  • Jen Mallo: In-kind donations from The Howard Hughes Corporation, along with personal donations from local developer company & association presidents as detailed here.


  • Antonia Watts: $500 from “Howard Research & Development Corp.” (The Howard Hughes Corporation), along with personal donations from a local developer company president


Here’s my perspective (opinion):

The above details on self-loans & special interest/partisan political donations paint a concerning picture that the ones seemingly most interesting in re-electing District 4 incumbent candidate Jen Mallo are:


  1. Herself, first and foremost, having loaned $15,000 to herself for her campaign, which is almost the entire annual salary of an HCPSS Board of Education member (currently $16,000 per year)


  2. Partisan politicians and associated greater political organizations who aren’t true HCPSS stakeholders


  3. Special interest groups such as local developers who lobby the HoCo government for policies that overcrowd HCPSS schools, offer no lasting solutions to solve the overcrowding issue, and lobby HCPSS behind-the-scenes for specific redistricting plans that will enhance their ability to open up new developments


  4. A handful of donors (top ten) who represent just under 50% of the total amount of campaign contributions that she received from individual donors.


The partisan political donations to Matthew Molyett and partisan political donations & special interest (developer) donations to Jen Mallo and Antonia Watts are also concerning. The Board of Education is a non-partisan election and, in my opinion, minimal financial assistance or other lobbying should occur from partisan political groups or special interest groups such as developers who are not HCPSS stakeholders. Neither of them have the best interest of HCPSS students & staff in mind — their involvement in BOE races and in HCPSS affairs comes strictly from the desire to maximize profits and consolidate their influence & power.


Candidates who openly seek out and accept such partisan political endorsements & donations and special interest group donations are sending a clear and extremely concerning message to their prospective constituents that they will not be wholly representing the interests of HCPSS stakeholders and that they may be at least partially and willfully beholden to entities who do not care about the comprehensive advancement and long-term sustained excellence of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS).


ADDENDUM – 9/9/2020

Here is an addendum to this post, to counter claims that “tons of money is pouring into certain races from people who live outside of the district”. The focus of this claim typically is directed at District 4, so this analysis will focus there. The following claims are presented upfront:


  • Sezin Palmer and Jen Mallo had almost exactly the same percentage of their individual donations from outside District 4 donors.

  • Jen Mallo had significantly higher donations and in-kind support from donors who lived outside Howard County.


First, let’s examine the campaign finance data charts in this main post, particularly the ‘Outside HoCo donations’ charts. Next, let’s examine the amount of funding that has come from outside District 4 for each candidate:


Jen Mallo

  • $6,265 donations from 48 District 4 individual donors

  • $6,152 donations from 52 outside District 4 individual donors (Of which $2,600 came from outside HoCo donors.)

  • $2,100 from partisan political treasury transfers (Terri Hill, Clarence Lam, Frank Turner) – outside District 4 entities

  • Let’s not forget the in-kind donation from Maria Rambillo in Brooklyn, New York — almost $6,000 worth of branding, logo & advertising services for free. Quite the substantial free services from an out-of-state entity. This won’t be included in her total individual donations, but it is a donation that should not be ignored.

  • Jen Mallo had $12,417 total individual donations + $2,100 partisan political treasury transfers = $14,517 total combined individual/politician donations


Thus, 42% of Jen Mallo’s total individual/politician donations came from outside District 4 donors.


Sezin Palmer

  • $13,013 donations from 99 District 4 individual donors

  • $13,057 individual donations from 85 outside District 4 donors ($1,800 of which came from outside HoCo individual donations)

  • $6,000 from the HoCo Chinese American Parent Association (CAPA) PAC, which came from 75 district 4 donors (this can be confirmed on the Maryland campaign finance website —- all $6,000 donated to Sezin Palmer from this PAC came from District 4 HoCo donors).

  • $26,070 total individual donations + $6,000 CAPA PAC donation (75 individual district 4 donors) = $32,070 total combined individual donations


Thus, 41% of Sezin Palmer’s total combined individual donations came from outside District 4 donors.


Note that in the above analysis, donations made to these candidates from residents other districts (e.g. District 5) who are assigned to District 4 schools (such as River Hill High School), are put in the “outside-District 4” category.


If those donors are included in the “within-District 4” category, then the percentage of “outside District 4 donors” for Sezin Palmer would drop considerably and would likely only drop a little, if at all, for Jen Mallo.


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