Bowing to political pressure, Gov. Parris N. Glendening changed his mind last night and made public the names of people who contributed thousands of dollars to his legal defense fund.
The list revealed that his single largest donor, Baltimore businessman Willie Runyon, had given $85,000 toward the effort to pay off legal bills Mr. Glendening incurred during Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's challenge to November's election results.
Mr. Runyon owns American Ambulance and Oxygen Service Co. in Baltimore, which as a company contributed $5,000.
Mr. Runyon's company employs Baltimore state Sen. Larry Young, chairman of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee and a strong supporter of the governor during last year's campaign.
Previously, Mr. Runyon had given $8,000 to Mr. Glendening's gubernatorial campaign and at least $15,000 to his inaugural effort.
Attempts to reach Mr. Runyon for comment after his contributions became known last night were unsuccessful.
The governor's press secretary, Dianna Rosborough, said that, as far as she knew, Mr. Runyon, who is in his early 70s, has no business with the state. She said he was active in the state Democratic Party.
"He was concerned about the court challenge," she said, referring to Mrs. Sauerbrey's legal efforts, which failed to overturn Mr. Glendening's narrow victory.
In explaining the governor's about-face, Mrs. Rosborough said that contributors to the legal defense fund were under the impression that they would remain anonymous.
"However, Governor Glendening, as a public servant, believes it only appropriate to release the names," Mrs. Rosborough said.
The list included 40 individual and corporate donors, whose gifts totaled $173,200.
Five contributors gave $5,000 or more. In addition to Mr. Runyon and his company, the others were the Prince George's County Firefighters, Marjorie Boyer, the United Auto Workers of Region No. 8, and Mr. Glendening's campaign committee.
Another contributor was Willard Hackerman, chairman of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. in Baltimore. Mr. Hackerman gave $1,000. Whiting-Turner has been a frequent contributor to former Gov. William Donald Schaefer and has built a number of Schaefer-sponsored projects for the state.
Mr. Glendening's announcement came last night after Democratic and Republican leaders had criticized him yesterday, saying he should release the names to allay general public concern over the role of money in politics.
"If you don't have anything to hide, why not show it?" said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, in an interview yesterday morning. But when Mr. Glendening announced his decision around 8 p.m., the critical comments gave way to mild praise.
"I think it's a wise move," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who earlier in the day warned that the issue would not recede. "It's not just a smart political move, it's the right move for Maryland. People need to have confidence in their elected officials, especially the top leader."
Said Republican Del. Robert H. Kittleman, the House of Delegates minority leader: "He did what was right, but he was a little slow doing it."
Mrs. Rosborough said Friday that the governor would not reveal the names of contributors based on advice of the Maryland attorney general's office and his attorney, who said state law does not require it.
Mrs. Sauerbrey has disclosed the sources of the more than $300,000 she raised.
Mr. Glendening's turnabout marked the second time during his month-old administration that he has bowed to outside pressure and publicly reversed course.
Late last month, the governor decided that he and three of his top state aides would forgo tens of thousands of dollars in early pension benefits after news of what many critics called an exceptionally generous Prince George's County pension program sparked a public uproar.
As in the case of the list of contributors, Mr. Glendening moved rapidly to address the pension problem and tried to put it behind him. After the story broke in the news media, Mr. Glendening postponed a visit to the White House the next business day to announce that he and his aides would give up the benefits until they left state service or reached the normal retirement age of 55.
Mr. Glendening's decision to release the names last night also comes as he faces the biggest political challenge of his young administration -- this week's confirmation hearing on his nominee for state personnel secretary, Michael J. Knapp.
Mr. Knapp worked for Mr. Glendening in Prince George's County and helped fashion the early pension program that came to benefit him, the governor and two other aides, chief of staff Major F. Riddick Jr. and deputy chief of staff Michele T. Rozner.
Under Senator Young, the Executive Nominations Committee will consider Mr. Knapp's appointment Friday. Political observers said yesterday that if the governor had continued to hold out on the contribution list, it might have cost him some votes for Mr. Knapp.
The committee traditionally has served as a rubber stamp. In the wake of the pension revelations, though, members plan to grill Mr. Knapp and many in Annapolis think the vote could be close.