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Howard developer uses 'LLC loophole' on Weinstein finance report

In the close race for County Council in District 1, one candidate's campaign coffers got a significant boost from a Howard County developer earlier this summer while another candidate's funds come mostly from out of state, finance reports show.

Consulting business owner Jon Weinstein, the Democratic candidate for the contested council seat that represents Ellicott City, Elkridge and Hanover, received $6,000 from four limited liability companies owned by developer Donald Reuwer Jr. – skirting the normal state limit of $4,000 – and another $3,000 from two LLCs registered to owners with a similar name and the same address.

Reuwer is a principal at Howard County-based Land Development & Design, a "full service land development company" that has worked on residential communities in Ellicott City, including Mt. Hebron Overlook, Taylor Village and the Mason Property, according to the company's website. Elsewhere in Howard County, Reuwer has been involved in a development near the Rosa Bonheur pet and human cemetery in Elkridge.

Taken together, the contributions total $9,000 in the form of $1,000 and $2,000 checks from six different LLCs registered to Donald R. Reuwer Jr., Donald R. Reuwer and Donald R. Reuwer III, according to a Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records search. The address listed for all six LLCs on the campaign finance report, filed in June, is the same: a suite at 5300 Dorsey Hall Drive in Ellicott City.

The donations exceed the $4,000 state limit on contributions made by an individual or company to a single candidate's campaign. However, a loophole in the current law allows for a business owner with multiple LLCs to donate up to $4,000 from each entity.

The General Assembly passed a law during the 2013 session to close the LLC loophole at the beginning of the next four-year election cycle, which begins after the election in November of this year, but a Baltimore Sun article in January reported that several gubernatorial candidates had enjoyed a "last hurrah" of sizeable LLC donations before the practice becomes illegal.

Weinstein's opponent, Republican software security firm government liaison Kevin Forrest Schmidt, said he was concerned Reuwer's contributions would give him an unfair advantage before the council: "If [Weinstein] can't abide by the $4,000 limit, which levels the playing field for our community, how can we be assured someone won't have a greater voice in development decisions?"

Weinstein acknowledged the developer's contribution was generous, but said it was just a fraction of the contributions he had received. Since January 2013, the candidate has collected $54,109 in donations; the $9,000 in contributions linked to Reuwer would account for about 16.6 percent of his funds raised.

On Wednesday, Reuwer said he supported Weinstein because "I am one of those businessmen that believe in the [principles] of fairness and equal opportunity for all, as embraced by the Democratic Party." Reuwer said a college scholarship helped launch his career, so "I try to counteract the big Republican contributors who support those candidates with platforms to cut spending on education, and public safety so as to lower taxes for the wealthy."

Weinstein, he said, "impressed me as the Democratic candidate with the best chance of being elected in the general election." Reuwer contributed to Weinstein before the June primary election, when the candidate was up against three other Democrats.

Reuwer said he didn't expect any business favors from Weinstein. "As Howard County is practically 'built out,' I don't see this council dealing with any major land use issues," he wrote in an email. "Therefore; I never asked Jon about his stance on such matters."

In all, 62 percent of Weinstein's funds came from 133 individuals and 15 businesses (including Reuwer's and Line of Sight, Weinstein's consulting firm) and nearly 38 percent was from political action committees, including the Home Builders' PAC of Howard County and the police, fire and teachers' unions.

"I've been in this community 20 years, and I have lots of friends and colleagues from the business world, from volunteering in the community, from taking my kids to sports in Elkridge and elsewhere," Weinstein said. "It's a false assumption that there's any sort of quid pro quo about any of this. Nobody should be concerned."

In his most recent campaign finance report, filed Aug. 26, Weinstein listed $3,350 in donations. His opponent, Schmidt, reported raising $4,230.89 over the same period.

Weinstein said he was pleased with the report, as he had not been actively fundraising since the primary. He said he spent the summer knocking on doors in the district, and has almost reached the 3,000-door mark.

"The real part of it is just making the connections with the specific people who live in the district," he said. "At the end of the day, that's all that matters."

Schmidt's report, meanwhile, showed the strongest numbers the Republican, who filed in December, has garnered in the campaign so far, although his total cash on hand – $8,116.25 – still trails Weinstein's $8,536.86 in the bank.

His report also shows that many of his funds come from inviduals who live outside of the district. Of the 68 people who contributed to his campaign, nearly 78 percent live outside of the district, and nearly 59 percent live out of state. Twenty percent lived in the district.

Schmidt said he thought it was "typical" for a first-time candidate to receive donations from family, friends and work colleagues.

Other local races

In the council's two other contested races, District 2 and District 5, incumbents Calvin Ball and Greg Fox opted not to raise money, reporting $0 in receipts while their opponents, Ralph Colavita and Alan Schneider reported several thousand dollars each in earnings.

Colavita, a Republican running against Ball in District 2, reported $2,140 in funds raised and $2,865 in the bank, a number dwarfed by Ball's substantial campaign coffers of $149,419.35.

In District 5, Fox and Democratic challenger Alan Schneider reported closer numbers in cash on hand. Fox has $6,279.12 in the bank, while Schneider raised $750 and loaned his campaign $7,000, boosting his campaign bank account to $4,667.24.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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