If Democrat Wes Moore is elected as Maryland’s next governor — and multiple independent polls indicate he is heavily favored to do so — he’ll have important decisions to make about his personal finances and business investments.
Moore has a vast array of investments and business interests and holds positions on the boards of several corporations, all presenting a minefield of potential conflicts of interest should he become the state’s chief executive.
“I’ve been very, very transparent with everybody that when I become the governor-elect, everyone is going to be very clear about where all of my intellectual focus is going to be,” Moore told The Baltimore Banner. That focus, he said, will be governing, not business deals.
The issue of personal wealth and business holdings has repeatedly been a question for the current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, who was a real estate executive before he was elected in 2014.
Hogan has continued to make millions of dollars from his business, the Hogan Companies, which has been run by the governor’s brother while he’s been in office.
With the Hogan Companies having property holdings and development deals across the state, some have questioned whether Hogan inappropriately influenced road projects to his company’s advantage — though ethics complaints over the matter have not yielded any public resolution and Hogan has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
After becoming governor, Hogan put his interest in the Hogan Company and a slew of limited liability corporations into a trust managed by his brother. Hogan is not involved in the day-to-day affairs of the company, but is allowed to receive updates — an arrangement that was given the blessing by the state’s Ethics Commission.
Moore has even more complicated financial affairs than Hogan, as detailed in 71 pages’ worth of financial disclosures that he was required to submit when he filed his candidacy for governor. The summary of his stock holdings alone takes up 42 printed pages from the financial services company UBS.
Asked by The Baltimore Banner about his assets, Moore said he would put his business investments into a blind trust, a more stringent setup that typically is managed by an independent party without Moore’s input. He also said he would resign from corporate boards.
“If I’m elected, and as I become the governor-elect, I’m moving everything into a blind trust so that there will be no question about my financial transparency. Frankly, I am going to go a step further than the current governor,” Moore said.
Moore’s business holdings reflect “his diverse and dynamic private sector experience,” campaign spokesman Brian Jones said in a statement.
Putting those business interests in a blind trust is “the most comprehensive and aggressive action possible to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Jones said.
The next governor should be careful to take steps to minimize conflicts of interest and increase transparency, said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, a nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.
They should clearly communicate to Marylanders how they plan to handle their business affairs and then follow through, Antoine said. That should start soon after the election.
Moore’s pledge to put his assets in a blind trust is encouraging, Antoine said, though she suggested Moore go further by releasing copies of his tax returns annually. Neither Moore nor Republican nominee Dan Cox has released their tax returns.
“A priority coming in should be being as transparent as possible, making clear to the public your priority is focusing on the work of the people’s business and not necessarily your business and making millions — especially off of possible Maryland contracts,” she said.
Once the election results are certified, the winner becomes the governor-elect and is subject to the state’s public ethics law. Typically, the governor-elect’s transition team will contact the state Ethics Commission to discuss potential issues and seek guidance, said Jennifer Allgair, executive director of the Ethics Commission.
The public ethics law includes a prohibition that certain officials, including the governor and governor-elect, may not “be employed by or have an interest in” any company that is regulated by the official or that has a state contract. Covered officials also must not “hold any other employment relationship that would impair the impartiality and independent judgement of the official.”
Allgair said officials covered by the public ethics law may consider divesting some of their financial interests or seeking exceptions in order to keep ownership of their financial interests. That would need to be approved by the Ethics Commission.
If the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller or treasurer reaches an agreement with the Ethics Commission regarding the handling of their finances, a copy must be provided to the General Assembly’s ethics committee. That’s a new change in state law, approved in 2021.
Moore’s business deals
According to Moore’s financial disclosure, SEC filings and company reports, Moore is a board member of several corporations, including:
- Under Armour, the Baltimore-based footwear and apparel company. In his financial disclosure filed in March, Moore reported owning more than 1,000 shares of Under Armour stock. In the two years that Moore has been on the board, the company has awarded him nearly 49,000 shares of Under Armour stock, according to SEC filings, and more than 21,000 of those shares were awarded after Moore became an official candidate in March. The stock has a current market value of nearly $360,000.
- Edquity, a private company that administers emergency financial aid programs, mainly for colleges but also for governments, including the City of Baltimore’s “Water4All” water bill assistance program. In 2019, Edquity bought Moore’s Baltimore-based education company, BridgeEdU, for an undisclosed amount and shut down its mentoring programs for first-generation college students. Moore reported owning more than 1,000 shares of the company.
- Longview Acquisition Corp. II, a special purpose acquisition company or “blank check” company, which is a type of company that’s created to raise money from investors with the purpose of buying or merging with an existing company. Longview raised $600 million in an initial public offering of stock in 2021. Moore reported owning more than 1,000 shares of the company with a purchase price of “Under $1,000.” SEC filings show Moore owns 25,000 shares of stock.
- IAC Inc., a New York-based company that owns dozens of media and consumer brands, including Better Homes & Gardens, Food & Wine and Care.com. Moore reported owning between 750 and 999 shares of the company and estimated the shares are worth at least $100,000.
- Focus Impact Acquisition Corp., another special purpose acquisition company with a stated mission to invest in a “high-growth company” that works on sustainable development. The company raised $200 million in an initial public offering in 2021. Moore is chairman of the board. The company’s SEC filings note Moore’s gubernatorial candidacy and state that should he win “he would be required to resign from his position as chairman and leave our board of directors.”
Asked if he would resign from corporate boards, Moore said: “Absolutely.”
Moore previously was on the board of Green Thumb Industries, a company that manufactures cannabis products and owns and operates cannabis dispensaries under the brand name RISE, including four in Maryland. Moore reported on his disclosure that he owned more than 1,000 shares of Green Thumb Industries stock worth more than $100,000.
But that undersells exactly how invested Moore is in the company: SEC filings indicate that, as of his departure from the company in March, Moore owned 170,730 subordinate voting shares of the company with a market value of more than $1 million.
Moore, who has advocated for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Maryland, resigned from the Green Thumb board when he filed his candidacy for governor in March. He had served on Green Thumb’s board since 2018.
With Maryland voters likely to approve marijuana legalization this fall, the next governor and General Assembly will sort through complex issues to establish a newly legal industry, including deciding who can apply for licenses to grow and sell the drug, what the taxation rate will be and more. Green Thumb, as an existing business in Maryland, could be among the players in the expanded marijuana market in Maryland.
When Moore resigned from Green Thumb’s board, the company issued a press release that included a statement from Moore that read, in part: “I’m proud of the work we did to diversify the board and the industry as a whole. We need to ensure we have the right leaders at the table of this emerging industry, and I look forward to following their important work of promoting well-being through cannabis.”
Moore also was a board member of Longview Acquisition Corp. I until 2021 when it merged with Butterfly Network, a medical imaging company. Moore has reported owning more than 1,000 shares of Butterfly Network stock.
Moore also owns a partial stake in 22 limited liability corporations, all but one of them registered to an address in an office building in Lakewood, N.J. The other limited liability corporation, Camden Partners Strategic Fund V LLC, lists an address in downtown Baltimore. It’s not clear what the purpose of those companies are; the Moore campaign declined to elaborate on those companies.
Moore is also the sole owner of four companies that appear to be connected to his books and speaking engagements: Elevate Speakers LLC, Five Days LLC, Omari Literary Holdings LLC and Omari Productions LLC. (”Omari” is one of Moore’s middle names.)
On his financial disclosures, Moore listed the value of Elevate Speakers as between $200,000 and $250,000 and the value of the other three companies as less than $25,000.
Moore also is well-connected to powerful people and businesses from his work as executive director the Robin Hood Foundation, a nonprofit based in New York City. The organization accepts donations from individuals and businesses and directs the money toward poverty-fighting causes. Robin Hood’s board members include executives from financial firms and nonprofit leaders; donors include scores of business leaders and philanthropists, according to the organization’s annual reports, including Bloomberg Philanthropies and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation among those with Maryland ties.
Moore was CEO of Robin Hood from 2017 until 2021, when he stepped down ahead of announcing his plan to run for governor. In 2020, Moore was paid $899,635 in salary from Robin Hood plus $100,094 in other compensation, according to the organization’s tax return.
Moore and his wife, Dawn Flythe Moore, bought a house in Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood for $2.35 million in 2017.
Moore reported that his debts include a mortgage on the house as well as more than $100,000 owed on a line of credit from M&T Bank. Moore gave “personal assets” as collateral on the line of credit, according to his disclosure.
Cox’s business deals
Moore’s chief rival in the race for governor, Dan Cox, has a more straightforward financial situation, according to his disclosure.
Cox reported owning two properties with his wife, Valerie Cox. He also owns his law firm, Cox Law Center LLC, which he valued at between $200,000 and $250,000.
Cox also reported owning a variety of stocks in small quantities, including fewer than 100 shares apiece of firearms manufacturers Sturm Ruger, American Outdoor Brands, Smith & Wesson and Vista Outdoor.
Cox also reported having between $15,000 and $20,000 in a mutual fund and fewer than 100 shares of GameStop, the video game retailer that’s been the subject of mass buying by speculators.