That blue-and-red symbol on Douglas M. Duncan’s campaign materials — the one that looks like rings and fleurs-de-lis — is not the Duncan family crest.
In fact, it is a symbol regulated by Montgomery County law: the county flag.
“I used the state flag when I ran for governor in 2006, so when I decided to run for executive, I used the county flag,” said Duncan (D), a former county executive running for that position again.
Duncan splashed the flag across his campaign, from his website dougduncan.com to his bumper stickers.
But the three-time executive said he did not know that county law — section 1-404 of the county code to be exact — regulates the use of the county flag, along with the county seal and coat of arms.
Montgomery law decrees that “a person must not use the county coat of arms, flag, or seal to indicate that a person is acting in an official capacity on behalf of the county unless the person is acting in an official capacity on behalf of the county.”
County Attorney Marc P. Hansen said the “evil” the law aimed to prevent was people passing themselves off as county officials when they are not.
“I cannot overemphasize that context is everything, that intent is everything,” Hansen said.
Speaking hypothetically, he said it would be illegal for someone to use the flag to claim to be a county inspector, when he is not.
As for uses like Duncan’s, Hansen said the question is whether a reasonable person would think the flag indicates county government is running or sponsoring the enterprise.
Duncan’s website makes it clear that he is acting “By Authority: Friends of Doug Duncan,” so Hansen said he does not think a reasonable person would think the Montgomery County government is behind it.
“How many — look at the national level — how many politicians wrap themselves almost literally in the U.S. flag?” Hansen asked. “That is not the U.S. government speaking.”
Should someone use the county flag illegally, it bears a $500 fine per violation and can be prosecuted by the state’s attorney’s office as a misdemeanor, he said.
However, Hansen could not recall anyone being prosecuted for improper flag use.
Another question is: What flag is that?
“It’s interesting — people don’t know what it is,” Duncan said of the flag. “A lot think it’s my family crest. It has been fun. It’s been a great education for people, explaining ‘this is your county flag.’”
Don’t expect to see the flag on all of Duncan’s campaign swag.
The former executive said his campaign is changing it up for future materials, but “not because of any of this.”