Republican candidate for governor Larry Hogan called for a wider investigation of Maryland's flawed health care exchange website on Thursday with a focus on political donations from companies and state contracts they received.
Hogan said he asked state and federal officials in a letter Wednesday to expand on an audit already underway by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
His action served to underscore criticism of his opponent -- Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown -- in what has been an increasingly negative campaign for the governorship. Hogan said he sent letters to the Maryland U.S. attorney, the state prosecutor's office and the state attorney general's office.
"We have formally requested broader federal and state investigations into the health care debacle, as well as other inappropriate, clearly unethical, and potentially illegal contracts awarded to large donors to [Gov. Martin] O'Malley, Brown, and groups with whom they are directly involved, including the Democratic Governors Association," Hogan said at a news conference at his campaign headquarters.
David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Doug Gansler, said the office received the letter and that the authority to review such issues rests with the state prosecutor. Thomas McDonough, the deputy state prosecutor, declined to comment. Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman with the U.S. attorney, said the letter had not yet been received.
Democrats contend that companies cited by Hogan made even larger donations to the Republican Governors Association. Justin Schall, a spokesman for Brown's campaign, said Hogan's claims were baseless and that the candidate will say anything to distract from the important issues that matter to voters.
"Voters deserve for Hogan to own up to his lifelong conservative Republican agenda and stop these baseless character assassination attempts," Schall said in a statement after the news conference.
Hogan is focusing on companies that made large donations to the Democratic Governors Association and ended up receiving state contracts to work on the health care exchange. For example, he cites $375,000 donated to the association in 2011 by UnitedHealth Group, the parent company of Optum/QSSI -- a Columbia, Maryland-based company hired by the state in December to help fix Maryland's health exchange website. Hogan noted another $275,000 donation to the association in 2012.
O'Malley, who is term-limited, was association chairman for two terms, from December 2010 to December 2012. After his tenure as chairman, he also served as the group's finance chairman until December. The Democratic Governors Association and the Republican Governors Association can both receive unlimited political contributions.
Nina Smith, an O'Malley spokeswoman, said state contracts are awarded through an independent process.
"Our administration has and will continue to keep our political activities separate from our official work," Smith said.
During the campaign, Brown has been repeatedly criticized for the health exchange website problems, because he took a leadership role in implementing federal health care reform in Maryland.
Attorney General Doug Gansler, who ran against Brown in the Democratic primary, repeatedly criticized him for the problems. Still, Brown easily won the primary with 51 percent of the vote, compared to 24 percent for Gansler and 22 percent for Del. Heather Mizeur.