By Erin Cox
The controversy over Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's deletion of Facebook comments continued Wednesday, as a government watchdog group and the Maryland Democratic Party raised questions over the propriety of banning constituents from a public page.
Hogan's spokesman continued to defend the practice and dismissed concerns as partisan.
The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that the governor's staff deleted comments requesting that Hogan condemn President Donald Trump's travel ban for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Hogan's staff labeled the comments spam and banned posters from making future comments. That frustrated several posters who said they were not part of an organized group.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said Wednesday that about 450 people have been banned from posting over the past two years. Half of those people were banned for what the staff deemed a coordinated political "spam" attack and half were banned for using abusive language.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of government watching group Common Cause, said "we have strong concerns" about silencing the public on a politician's "official" social media account.
She said state ethics laws don't cover how elected officials should accommodate debate, and an official page "needs to be held to certain clear procedures for how to manage the page so that there's no infringement of free speech.
"We're in a brave new era, and certainly our laws aren't keeping up," she said.
The Maryland Democratic Party announced Wednesday it filed a records request to determine how the governor's press staff, comprised of state employees, decided to delete comments that challenged the governor.
"They fact that they characterized concerned citizens as organized spam is disconcerting," said Jazzmen S. Knoderer, communications director for the party. "So many people just wanted to get an answer."
Hogan relied heavily on Facebook as he built his campaign for governor. He often posts or responds to commenters.
Mayer called the Democratic Party's objection "a clear-cut case of page envy, because we have 10-times as many followers as they do."
Mayer also attacked Democrats for resisting the governor's efforts to change the way legislative districts are drawn.
"What's more important, the right to vote, or Facebook?" he said.
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