Ex-Small Business Administration deputy has a deal for you!

A Marylander who served as George W. Bush's No. 2 at the federal Small Business Administration — one whose name was out there four years ago as a possible running mate for then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich — has popped up in a less flattering political context.

Melanie Sabelhaus appears in an infomercial that helped sink former Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth's hopes of beating Senator John McCain in the Republican primary.

In the infomercial, which McCain used as an issue in the campaign, Hayworth played pitchman for National Grants Conferences, a company that made dubious promises to hook people up with free government grants, earning it an F from the Better Business Bureau and getting it crosswise with 24 state attorneys general.

The company has been accused of using high-pressure tactics to get people to pay for grant information that is publicly available for free online or in libraries, the Associated Press has reported.

The McCain campaign used the 2007 infomercial last summer in a campaign ad called "J.D. Huckster." It came to my attention this week, when The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza included it on his list of Top 10 ads of the 2010 primaries.

You don't hear Sabelhaus' voice in the bits of the infomercial incorporated into the campaign ad. But you do see her sitting beside Hayworth and speaking in an animated fashion — she's enumerating something on her fingers — while an ominous voice intones: "One attorney general called its business practices unconscionable and illegal." Her name flashes on the screen, and she's identified as the former deputy administrator of the SBA.

Hayworth initially defended his appearance on the infomercial, but later conceded it was "a mistake." What does Sabelhaus have to say?

I wish I could tell you, but the Owings Mills resident, who ran a Baltimore property rental and management company before joining the SBA, did not return my calls or e-mail messages. Her husband, Bob, used to head Legg Mason's Private Client Group, but I couldn't reach him either.

I wonder if hubby's Legg Mason clients got the inside track on all those free government grants.

The sweetener

Maryland's congressional delegation sweetened efforts to secure a War of 1812 commemorative coin with a chocolate-topped Baltimore tradition.

"Berger Cookies really helped us," Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger told The Baltimore Sun's Mary Gail Hare.

Intense competition from numerous groups vying to put their stamp on a coin led to intense lobbying for the measure, which requires 300 signatures from the House and 67 in the Senate.

Aides to the delegation left Bergers in many an office hoping to sway legislators. But they must have figured Maryland legislators were a lock.

"Some members thought they were taken for granted when we were not offered Berger cookies," grumbled Rep. John Sarbanes.

The efforts paid off when President Obama signed the bill a few weeks ago. Early in 2012, the U.S. Mint will issue a silver dollar and a $5 gold piece with a yet-to-be-determined image from the war. Proceeds from the coin sales will help pay for bicentennial celebrations.

Ladies' man

More news about John Leopold and the ladies. Though this time, it's a couple of encounters the Anne Arundel County exec wants to trumpet.

"County Executive Leopold has had a chance to meet two first ladies in the last couple of months," Leopold spokesman Dave Abrams e-mailed me this week. " Michelle Obama was at the Naval Academy in August where they talked about Mr. Leopold knocking on President Obama's door [when] he was a student at the Punahou School and Mr. Leopold was a Hawaii state senator. They also talked about the County's Learn to Live program to fight childhood obesity.

"And in case you missed it, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter were in Annapolis today with Habitat for Humanity to raise frames on Clay Street. County Executive Leopold, who has provided County funding for Habitat, attended the event, and spoke with Mrs. Carter for the first time in 32 years. The last time was in 1978 when Mr. Leopold traveled to the White House to present his report as a member of the National Title I Council for Disadvantaged Children."

Debate buffet

On one side, corned beef and cabbage, shepherd's pie, Irish soda bread. On the other, sauerbraten, bratwurst and knockwurst.

Nancy Longo, chef-owner of Pierpoint restaurant in Fells Point, is hosting a debate-watching party Monday night, when Gov. Martin O'Malley and former governor Ehrlich go at it on WJZ-TV. She'll offer a $10 buffet with food representing the candidates.

The "wurst" offerings are meant only to play off Ehrlich's German heritage, she assured me. "I'm not being a smart [aleck]," said Longo, who described herself as an independent. "Most of my friends are Republicans," she added.

Proceeds from the event go to the National Football League's Kick Hunger Challenge. (Longo represents the Ravens in the Super Bowl in a related Taste of the NFL event.)

No early exit

Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway is running for mayor for the fourth time, or the first, depending on how you count. Conaway has thrown his name into the ring three times before, but each time he bowed out before the election and threw his support behind another candidate (Billy Murphy in 1983, Andrey Bundley in 2003 and Keiffer Mitchell in 2007). "This will be my first time that I'm actually going to be in until election time," Conaway tells me. "The city needs to be straightened out, and I'm the person who can do it."

laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

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