Md. ethics questions are raised Senator denies deliberate violation of finance rules


State Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Republican who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, denied yesterday that he has deliberately violated General Assembly campaign finance rules by distributing a fund-raising letter and accepting contributions during the legislative session.

Mr. Ferguson, who said he has been "raked over the coals," has come under fire for a fund-raising letter postmarked Jan. 24, more than two weeks after the legislative session began. He also has received $340 in campaign contributions this session.

General Assembly guidelines urge lawmakers not to hold fund-raisers during the 90-day session and not to sell tickets during the session for later fund-raisers.

A memorandum reminding lawmakers of the policy was handed out the first day of the session.

Mr. Ferguson said he was aware of the guidelines and sent letters to supporters weeks before the session began. The letters asked supporters for $15 donations to help retire Mr. Ferguson's $16,000 campaign debt.

"I did everything right," Mr. Ferguson said. "I walked the straight and narrow. No commission has talked to me about it. I'm an honest guy or I wouldn't be so broke after the election. I believe the good people of Frederick and Carroll counties will give me the benefit of the doubt."

Mr. Ferguson said he had no idea why one letter had a Jan. 24 postmark. He said he believed the letters were mailed in bulk from Mount Airy in December.

"Perhaps it was a bulk-mailing mistake," he said. "I don't know how it happened. We certainly mailed them out weeks before the session started. They only found one that was postmarked after the session began."

Mr. Ferguson said he wasn't aware he was not allowed during the session to accept contributions solicited beforehand. A spokesman for the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics refused to discuss the issue, noting that such dealings are confidential.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, saw the letter Tuesday and said he was "shocked that a senator would send a letter out over his signature two weeks after the session began."

"It's a mistake," Mr. Miller said. "I thought everyone had known that you don't take money the same time you're passing laws. It's basic common sense, but mistakes do happen."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Republican who is chairman of the Carroll delegation, said he was unaware of Mr. Ferguson's predicament but said it was possible for bulk mailings to arrive at their destinations two or three weeks afterward. "Bulk rate does take quite a long time," he said. "I don't know. It could have been the problem. He could have been sending out prior to the session and they got caught up in the mail." Mr. Haines said the legislature's fund-raising policy has prompted him to hold his annual Orioles bullpen fund-raiser in late May, to allow time for guests to receive invitations.

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