WASHINGTON -- Days before the Maryland primary, Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and her campaign staff were calling contributors, searching for donations.
But the money was not for her campaign. Or for another Republican's. The money was for a Democrat, Rep. Beverly B. xTC Byron of Frederick, a conservative seven-term incumbent locked in a tough primary fight she eventually lost to state Del. Thomas H. Hattery.
Although lawmakers from both parties have something in common this year (a hostile electorate), it is virtually unheard-of for a Republican to offer a helping hand to a Democrat.
The fact that Mrs. Bentley, a Republican stalwart and national committeewoman who at times wears a skirt decorated with GOP elephants, was raising money for a candidate from the Other Party has privately irritated some Maryland Republicans.
But Mrs. Bentley, who marches to her own political tune, brushed such criticism aside.
"I'm not going to worry about that," she said. "Beverly voted more Republican than some Republicans I know."
Some other Republicans that Mrs. Bentley knows have decided to remain silent about her fund-raising activities. Maryland GOP Chairman Joyce L. Terhes said she was told of the Republican-to-Democrat aid but would say no more. And Tim Woodford, campaign chairman for 6th District GOP nominee Roscoe Bartlett, said he was unaware of the fund raising, adding, "I'd rather not comment."
But Dick Leggitt, a spokesman for Mr. Bartlett, was unconcerned, saying "Mrs. Bentley has been very helpful to our campaign."
Mrs. Bentley said she made the calls because of Mrs. Byron's pro-business record and subcommittee chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee, noting its importance to Maryland, one of the top states for defense contracts.
"I think she's a pretty super lady," Mrs. Bentley said. "She's a good friend. She helped me with me with my [district's] defense industry. . . . She's one of the few in the delegation who'll vote for business."
Mrs. Bentley declined to say how much she and her staff raised, saying she made "a handful" of calls. She acknowledged contacting the political action committee for AAI Corp., a defense contractor in her district, and Edward Hale, president of Hale Container Line in Baltimore, both of whom are frequent contributors to Mrs. Bentley.
AAI gave $1,000 to Mrs. Byron in the two days before the March 3 primary and $500 one week later.
Mr. Hale donated $500 on March 2, his first donation to the Frederick Democrat. "I would like to have seen her win," said Mr. Hale.
Mrs. Bentley said it was her idea to help Mrs. Byron. "I did it. I did it," said the congresswoman.
Mrs. Byron, who insisted she was unaware of the Bentley calls, was known to have pressed other Democrats to help her in the days before the primary, when polls showed she was neck and neck with Mr. Hattery.
She complained later that she had failed to get help from Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Mrs. Bentley has ruffled Republican feathers before. In 1990, she was decidedly cool to Republican gubernatorial candidate William S. Shepard and had little criticism for her close friend in the same race: Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer.