In the thick of the 2020 Baltimore mayor’s race, candidate and former city police spokesman T.J. Smith found himself the subject of critical news reports about an arrangement that allowed him to keep his Anne Arundel County Police pension while working for the city.

The arrangement and alterations to T.J. Smith’s Anne Arundel County pension plan had been publicly reported years earlier, but Fox45, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s flagship station, raised new questions in the spring of 2020 after he released his taxes as part of his candidacy.

“You may be wondering why we’re focusing on this story,” reads an April 9, 2020, report on Fox45′s website. “This is about transparency, integrity and honesty in your government.”

Fox45 ran another story about the pension on April 10. Two weeks later, T.J. Smith was sued over the arrangement. The man who sued him, James Braswell, testified at trial in 2021 that a corporation, Election Law Integrity, was paying his legal bills and that he learned of the pension arrangement from Fox45’s reporting. A judge shut down follow-up questions about who controlled the corporation.

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On Thursday, The Baltimore Banner reported David Smith, Sinclair’s executive chairman, is behind Election Law Integrity and is using the corporation to fund a separate lawsuit alleging Baltimore public schools are defrauding taxpayers.

In neither case is David Smith or his corporation listed as a party, but both cases received extensive coverage from Fox45 without disclosing his involvement. The station published reports about the T.J. Smith lawsuit up through the end of trial, including a June 10, 2021, report that mentioned an “LLC” was paying Braswell’s legal fees without naming the corporation.

Braswell, an estate planning lawyer, and his attorney did not return multiple phone calls and emails seeking comment.

This second lawsuit financed by Smith’s corporation reveals further participation in Baltimore politics than previously known. In addition to using his nationwide network of television stations to push conservative viewpoints, David Smith in recent years has become directly involved in local matters, funding city ballot referendums and financing candidates.

This month alone, campaign finance records show David Smith is funding a six-figure effort to shrink the number of representatives on the City Council and made a $100,000 donation to a super PAC supporting former Mayor Sheila Dixon’s campaign. Those expenditures come on top of his recent purchase of The Baltimore Sun, for which he said he paid at least $100 million. The acquisition gives David Smith control over two of the largest media organizations in Maryland.

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A spokesperson for David Smith did not return a request for comment.

A Sinclair spokesperson referenced the statement they gave The Banner last week when they said the network was unaware David Smith is financing the ongoing lawsuit against the schools and that the station would disclose the connection in past and future stories. As of Tuesday, the stories had not been updated to contain the disclosures.

T.J. Smith’s attorney claimed in court in 2021 that Fox45 and Sinclair Broadcast Group were behind the suit, but was unable to establish a clear through line, records show.

“This is a targeted attack,” Anne Arundel County attorney Thomas Mitchell, who represented T.J. Smith, said then.

“This is coming from one source and one source only, and that is Fox45 and Sinclair Broadcast,” Mitchell added.

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In a deposition, Braswell said he was simply a concerned citizen.

“My money, my taxpayer money, my community money, my neighbor’s money is going to pay for an individual that’s not working for us,” he said.

Now a radio host on WBAL 1090, T.J. Smith said in an interview Friday he “knew from the very beginning it was politics” and believed the lawsuit was meant to help a rival candidate.

T.J. Smith captured 6% of the vote in the June 2 Democratic primary and finished sixth in a crowded field. Among other candidates in the race was Thiru Vignarajah, who finished fourth, and received contributions from David Smith’s children and spouses and from Sinclair Secretary and Vice President J. Duncan Smith.

David Smith did not give any money directly to Vignarajah in the 2020 mayoral race, however Fox45 hosted an hourlong forum with Vignarajah after other candidates backed out of a debate on the station, including former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller, who cited the Smith family’s support for Vignarajah and concerns the station was biased in his favor.

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Braswell’s complaint centered on an arrangement between Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County government in which T.J. Smith, a county police officer who served as the city police spokesman, was able to join the Baltimore Police Department in 2015 while preserving his county pension.

At the time, T.J. Smith had served just short of 16 years with the county police, and in order to qualify for his pension needed to serve 20 consecutive years. Working with Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare and other county officials, they agreed to allow Smith to go on an unpaid leave of absence not to exceed one year, and said his service in Baltimore would count toward his pension service requirements as long as he made all required pension contributions.

When T.J. Smith stayed with the city beyond that one-year mark, officials worked out an arrangement where two experienced city drug detectives were detailed to work for the county. Smith began getting paid by the county again, used a county-issued cellphone and iPad, and received his performance reviews from Altomare, not the city police commissioner.

Attorney Scott Marder, who works at the Thomas & Libowitz firm and has a history of representing Sinclair and other David Smith family interests, ultimately came to represent Braswell at trial. Braswell’s original attorney for the lawsuit, C. Edward Middlebrooks, declined to comment through a secretary at his law firm when reached by phone.

At T.J. Smith’s civil trial, Mitchell, the county attorney, sought to draw out the connection to Sinclair and Fox45, but the judge overseeing the case denied him. However, Mitchell was able to elicit that Election Law Integrity was footing the bill.

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“Who’s paying the fees for this lawsuit?” Mitchell asked.

“Election Integrity,” Braswell said.

“How much legal fees have you contributed to the lawsuit?”


But when Mitchell asked who owned Election Integrity, the judge sustained an objection.

Nevertheless, the same judge rejected Braswell’s claim, finding that there was nothing illegal or improper about the arrangement.

Braswell appealed the ruling, but a three-judge panel of the Maryland Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s decision in September 2022.

Both the lawsuit against T.J. Smith and the school system are what’s known as taxpayer suits, meaning only a taxpayer in that jurisdiction can bring the suit, and that they have to argue that tax dollars are being misused.

David Smith is a Baltimore County resident and could not have personally filed the lawsuits. David Smith and Election Law Integrity are not listed as a party in either lawsuit; the corporation’s ties were only revealed after opposing counsel in the school suit raised questions about legal fees. Third parties can pay legal fees to advance their interests if the client consents, and they do not interfere with the attorney-client relationship.

While it’s not clear if Braswell and David Smith communicated about that lawsuit, David Smith is squarely involved in the ongoing lawsuit against the city school system. The plaintiff in that case, Jovani Patterson, told The Banner that he and David Smith are partners in it.

A recent deposition of Patterson revealed he and David Smith, along with attorneys from the Thomas & Libowitz firm, met several times to discuss the case. Patterson is also the chairman of People for Elected Accountability and Civic Engagement, a political committee funded almost entirely by Smith that promotes ballot initiatives seeking to reshape how Baltimore is run and governed.

Lawyers for the city school system sent a subpoena to David Smith last week, seeking documents and to force him to answer questions about his involvement in that case under oath.

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