Did you know that it is illegal to use the Howard County seal for any political purposes, including election campaign advertisements?
With this in mind…
Why does a replica image of the Howard County seal appear in multiple 2022 election ad videos published by a local political action committee (PAC)?
Why did the election campaign team for a Howard County Council candidate share some of these videos across social media?
Last month, the Howard Progressive Project PAC published a variety of election advertisement videos in support of Janssen Evelyn, a District 4 County Council candidate for the 2022 election cycle.
Three of these videos prominently display a replica image of the Howard County Seal next to an image of Evelyn. These three videos were posted on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as detailed below:
On June 17, 2022, the official Twitter account for Janssen Evelyn’s election campaign, “@4JanssenEvelyn”, retweeted the Election Ad Video #1 shown above:
On June 22, 2022, the official Facebook account for Janssen Evelyn’s election campaign shared the Election Ad Video #2 shown above:
UPDATE (7/5/2022 , 11:00 PM): Following the publication of this HoCo Watchdogs post, all three of the campaign ad videos above were deleted by the original publishers.
The removal of these videos comes 22 days after Videos #1 and #2 were published and disseminated widely across social media (including the Evelyn campaign Facebook and Twitter pages), and 17 days after Video #3 was published.
Screen recordings taken on July 2, 2022 of these three videos have been archived. Excerpts of screen recordings of these three videos, originally published on YouTube, are shown below:
Excerpt of Video #1
Excerpt of Video #2
Excerpt of Video #3
Excerpts of screen recordings of the social media sharing by the Janssen Evelyn campaign of two of these videos are shown below:
Excerpt of Twitter Page Share of Video #1
Excerpt of Facebook Page Share of Video #2
Use of the Howard County seal for political purposes has been illegal since 2004, when the Howard County Council adopted CB74-2004, a Council Bill that outlawed the practice and added the restriction to the Howard County Code of Ordinances.
This bill was introduced by then County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone after a political controversy earlier in 2004 when County Councilman Christopher Merdon had included a replica of the Howard County Seal in a an election fundraising letter sent to 250 county liquor license holders.
The codified law of this County bill is details in Section 22.101(f) of the Howard County Code of Ordinances, on the topic of the “County Seal”:
“(f) Use. It shall be unlawful for any person to make or use the seal, or reproduction thereof, for any purpose other than for the official business of Howard County, unless expressly approved in writing by the Chief Administrative Officer.
The seal, or any representation or near representation, shall not be used for:
(1) Any political purpose, including, but not limited to mailers or handouts; or
(2) Any purpose which would mislead the public into believing they are dealing with a representative of Howard County.
(g) Penalties. Any person who violates the provisions of subsection 22.101(f) of this subtitle is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, is subject to a fine not exceeding $1,000.00 for each occurrence and/or imprisonment not exceeding five months.
Alternatively, in addition to and concurrent with all other remedies at law or equity the Chief Administrative Officer and Howard County may enforce the provisions of subsection 22.101(f) with civil penalties pursuant to title 21 “civil penalties” of the Howard County Code. A violation of this section is a Class B offense.
(C.B. 12, 1969; C.B. 56, 1973; C.B. 74, 2004)”
The intent of the bill and the County law is clear: usage of the County seal for any purpose besides the official business of Howard County, particularly for political purposes such as elections ads and fundraising, could mislead and fraudulently influence county residents and (in this case) county voters.
Since the passage of this law almost two decades ago, at least one potential violation has occurred. In September 2019, two complaints were filed against Howard County Executive Calvin Ball for allegedly using the Howard County seal for political purposes.
According to these complaints, a political video published on Ball’s then-County Councilman Facebook page in 2015 showed him standing in front of the Howard County seal in a hearing room in the George Howard building in Ellicott City.
Despite being formally filed, the complaints had come 4 years after the video was published, outside the statute of limitations for this offense, so criminal prosecution was not ultimately pursued.
The fact that these recent complaints against County Executive Ball came during the timeframe when Janssen Evelyn was serving as Assistant Chief Administrative Officer for the Ball administration makes it particularly concerning to see Evelyn’s campaign team share across social media some of the Howard Progressive Project PAC videos that include a replica image of the County seal.
Evelyn was also Assistant County Solicitor in the Howard County Office of Law from 2015-2017 — a position that should have required him to be fully aware of this law.
The apparent inclusion of a replica image of the Howard County seal in these pro-Janssen Evelyn election advertisement videos by the Howard Progressive Project PAC is a highly concerning act that should be immediately investigated by the County government.
The 2022 Primary election early voting period begins in two days on July 7, 2022 and with each day that these pro-Evelyn campaign videos remain published online, the risk remains high that county voters who view these videos will be subliminally influenced and misled by the prominent display of the Howard County Seal next to Evelyn’s image.
As a prior high-ranking Howard County official and as an aspiring County Council candidate, Janssen Evelyn should know that this usage of the County Seal is a potential violation of County law and should be actively discouraged.
Instead of propagating the potential violation further by sharing the videos across his election campaign social media pages, Evelyn should have immediately contacted the Howard Progressive Project PAC and requested that they remove the County Seal image from their videos.
As it stands, this is yet another concerning “ends-justify-the-means” political tactic employed by the Janssen Evelyn campaign and some of his most vocal supporters in their seemingly desperate scramble to defeat Deb Jung in the 2022 District 4 County Council race.
Just last week, the Evelyn campaign was caught “digitally defacing” a Civil Rights movement photo in an attack ad mailer sent to many Howard County residents . To date, Evelyn has not apologized for this act and none of the individuals or organizations who have formally endorsed him have publicly condemned it.
Earlier in June, individuals and groups closely associated with the Evelyn campaign — most notably many officers of the Howard Progressive Project PAC — waged an artificially-racialized public smear/mischaracterization campaign against District 4 County Councilwoman Deb Jung after she politely confronted a group of local “modified car enthusiasts” who had allegedly been noisily engine revving and drag racing near Clarksville Commons.
It is critical that all District 4 Howard County voters be informed of these recent actions prior to voting this month in the 2022 Primary election.
Political tactics such as these have no place in Howard County. Allowing them to go unaddressed and unaccounted for will only encourage similar or worse actions in the future, to the long-term detriment of the County as a whole.
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