7 people, companies exceed Md. campaign donation limit Most say they didn't intend to violate law

THE BALTIMORE SUN

At least seven individuals and companies appear to have broken Maryland's campaign finance law by contributing more than $10,000 to various candidates in the last election cycle, an investigation by The Sun has found.

The list of apparent violators includes some prominent community leaders and businesses, including Orioles principal owner Peter G. Angelos and companies controlled by bakery magnate John Paterakis.

Under Maryland law, an individual or company can contribute a total of no more than $10,000 to all candidates combined during a four-year election cycle.

The Sun's review of campaign finance records for the 1991-1994 cycle found not only apparent violations of that law, but also that the $10,000 cap has not been enforced by two state agencies charged with doing so.

Without computerized records, keeping track of how much money individuals and companies have given to candidates is virtually impossible, state officials say.

The State Administrative Board of Election Laws is supposed to review campaign finance reports filed by candidates across the state for violations, but it acknowledges it is doing little to scrutinize the thousands of pages of documents.

"It's gotten so big that it is an impossibility to monitor it on paper," said Gene M. Raynor, the state election administrator. "We do not monitor it.

"But if it's glaring, and it jumps out to us, we notify the people who are supposed to enforce the law."

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, whose office is charged with prosecuting violations of the election code, said that unless his office receives a specific complaint about possible violations, his investigators do not go looking for them.

"We don't do it because it is just too much work for our agency -- seven or eight people. We don't have the time," Montanarelli said.

"It's difficult to do a random sampling and come up with anything."

Explanations by the seven apparent violators for their excess contributions ranged from confusion over interpretation of the law to a lack of knowledge of the overall limit.

None disputed contributing more than the permitted $10,000.

The Sun's review of campaign finance reports showed these apparent violations of the state's $10,000 contribution limit:

* Angelos contributed more than $17,300 to a variety of candidates and slates, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Baltimore County Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, all Democrats.

That money was in addition to at least $35,000 in contributions -- all permitted under the law -- given by people and entities affiliated with Angelos.

His law firm contributed $9,250, for instance, and the Baltimore Orioles organization gave $7,000. Various Angelos family members contributed at least $19,000.

* Another part-owner of the Orioles, Stephen A. Geppi, the comic book king and publisher of Baltimore magazine, contributed $12,500 to five candidates, including $4,000 to Glendening.

In addition, Geppi's Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. legally gave another $4,000 to Glendening.

* Nine companies owned by the Paterakis family, including H&S; Bakery and Automatic Rolls of Baltimore, contributed at least $26,700 to numerous candidates for city and state office.

Under a 1991 revision to state law, contributions by a corporation and any of its wholly owned subsidiaries -- as well as other corporations owned by the same individuals -- are considered as coming from a single contributor.

That means that, all together, such corporations and subsidiaries can legally give only $10,000.

Paterakis confirmed that the stockholders in each of the nine family companies are the same.

The Paterakis companies' $26,700 was in addition to at least $16,050 in contributions to candidates -- these permitted under the law -- from other Paterakis-affiliated businesses, family members and company officials.

At least $1,000 from Paterakis himself shows up in records.

* Continental Foods, a Baltimore wholesale food distributorship that is now a division of Rykoff-Sexton Inc., gave $15,000 to 16 candidates.

* Super Rite Foods Inc., once owned in part by Rite Aid Corp., gave at least $11,450 to four candidates by itself and through a wholly owned subsidiary, Basics/Metro Food Markets.

Super Rite, which was spun off as a separate company from the pharmacy chain in 1989, was headed at the time of the contributions by Alex Grass and Martin Grass, then principals in Rite Aid.

Rite Aid was cited in an earlier review by Common Cause of Maryland, a citizen watchdog group, for exceeding the $10,000 limit by contributing $11,880 to 10 candidates.

* Evered Bardon Mid-Atlantic Inc., a development and contractor-supply company formerly headquartered in Chantilly, Va., contributed $11,500 to four candidates and the Democratic State Central Committee through its Rockville and Greenbelt offices.

* The Baltimore Port Council -- a central labor council of maritime-related unions, including the Seafarers International Union of North America -- contributed $10,580 to 10 candidates.

The apparent violations of the election code -- misdemeanor offenses that carry a penalty of $1,000 fine and/or a year in prison -- are now outside the reach of Montanarelli's office because the two-year statute of limitations has run out on the 1991-1994 cycle.

A variety of campaign finance reforms are expected to be considered by the Maryland General Assembly during the 90-day session now under way.

The proposals include computerizing the records, an idea first raised a decade ago, and extending the statute of limitations for violations.

Maryland's campaign financing law, which has its roots in the state's old Corrupt Practices Act, was established to minimize the possibility of individuals or businesses buying influence with elected officials through unregulated campaign contributions.

An interest in the outcome

Those who contribute to political campaigns often have a keen ** interest in the outcome of government policies and legislation.

Angelos, for instance, won the right last year to be Maryland's lawyer in potentially lucrative litigation against tobacco companies -- and persuaded the legislature to approve four new slots for circuit court judges to help handle the 12,000 asbestos cases he has filed in Baltimore.

He failed to achieve his main goal of getting the General Assembly to make the statute on punitive damages more friendly to plaintiffs, but he is expected to try again this session.

Paterakis has a variety of interests that have brought him into contact with both state and city officials.

He has made no secret of his desire to bring legalized gambling to property that a family company owns in Baltimore's Inner Harbor East -- land that has been improved in part by city #F contracts and through government loans.

And Rite Aid is seeking a multimillion-dollar financial aid package from the Glendening administration in return for locating a $50 million East Coast distribution center in Maryland.

The seven apparent violators found in The Sun's investigation are in addition to eight companies and individuals already identified in August 1995 by Common Cause as having exceeded the $10,000 cap.

They are: Willie Runyon, a Baltimore businessman; Runyon's American Ambulance and Oxygen Service; Ceres Terminals Inc., Hoboken, N.J.-based international stevedore and terminal operator that uses the Dundalk Marine Terminal; College Park developer Irving Kidwell; Kidwell's College Park Contracting Inc.; PIE Mutual Insurance Co. of Cleveland, Ohio; and Rite Aid.

Also included was Oceanic Ltd., a Baltimore trucking company owned by Brian H. Davis, who is currently under indictment on federal fraud and tax evasion charges.

A Sun investigation last month found that Davis and his companies contributed at least $252,227 to candidates in Maryland and elsewhere over a five-year period.

In seven of the eight cases first identified by Common Cause, The Sun has discovered that the companies and individuals actually gave even more than the watchdog group found initially.

Didn't mean to do it

The apparent violators identified by The Sun said they were not aware they had exceeded the $10,000 cap until contacted by reporters.

"I can't believe I'd be careless enough to go over the limit," Angelos said. "But if you put it all together, I'm over, clearly."

"Obviously this is an oversight on my part, which is regrettable," he said. "It conveys the wrong impression, and certainly will be corrected in the future."

He denied that any of the contributions was meant to influence the outcome of issues that he has before state officials.

Paterakis said he believed that each of nine family-owned companies was able to give $10,000 because each was separate. But after learning of the language regarding corporations, he said, "It looks like we goofed up somehow."

He said the contributions were not an effort to persuade office-holders to look favorably on his projects, but rather an effort to help friends.

"Over the years, you establish a friendship with them. How can you turn them down?" he asked. "The trouble is I got too many of those people who are my friends."

Joseph I. Abramson, president of Continental Foods, said he had no idea there was a $10,000 limit in Maryland.

"I'm sort of shocked," Abramson said when told the company had contributed $15,000 in the four-year cycle. "I've never heard of the law. I know it's no excuse, but we operate in so many localities and have so many candidates coming to us.

"You mean to tell me that this includes the governor? And comptroller? And the House and Senate? And the mayor and the council? All of them are included in the $10,000?" he asked. "We've never looked at that, that it had a $10,000 max."

Violation called 'regrettable'

Charles Degliomini, a spokesman for Geppi, said Geppi was unaware that he had exceeded the limit, calling the overage "inadvertent" and "regrettable."

Elizabeth Hymel, an aide to Geppi, said Geppi did not believe one of the contributions -- from a joint checking account he shares with Melinda C. Moran -- should be counted against the total he gave to candidates.

The Sun counted $2,000 of a $4,000 contribution to the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee as part of Geppi's $12,500 total because the entry on the campaign finance report states that the money was given from both of them.

Hymel said that contribution should be considered as being from Moran solely because she signed the check from their joint checking account.

But the state election board's long-standing policy on two-party checks is that the contribution is presumed to be from both parties -- and the amounts divided equally -- unless the campaign treasurer is notified to the contrary at the time of the contribution.

Even if the $2,000 contribution were not included in his total, Geppi still would have exceeded the $10,000 limit.

Super Rite officials referred questions about their contributions to RichFood Holdings Inc. of Richmond, Va., which bought Super Rite in 1995. RichFood officials said they had no explanation because the donations were made before they purchased Super Rite.

Martin Grass, the former head of Super Rite and Rite Aid's chairman and chief executive, declined to comment.

James Payne, vice president of the Bardon Group, as Evered Bardon is now known, did not respond to a written request for comment on his firm's contributions. Reached by telephone, he declined to comment.

Officials of the Baltimore Port Council referred queries about the overages to the Seafarers International Union of North America in Washington. Daniel Duncan, a spokesman for the international, issued the following statement: "The Baltimore Port Maritime Council would not knowingly violate any state law."

An overwhelming job

Keeping track of contributions in Maryland, both individual and corporate, requires reviewing reams of paper -- thousands of pages -- by hand.

The state election board currently oversees nearly 1,100 active campaign committees, which will file an estimated 6,000 reports -- some numbering hundreds of pages -- in the current election cycle ending in 1998.

Those reports are an accounting of millions of dollars raised and spent in the four-year period. In the 1994 election cycle, 52 candidates for state office raised more than $100,000 each, including Glendening's record $5.3 million.

"We perpetuate a fraud on the Maryland public if we pretend that the campaign finance laws are being enforced -- or are enforceable," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland.

"The public deserves full and timely disclosure of all campaign contributions, and until this information is computerized, the public is denied meaningful access."

The election board sent a report Jan. 1 to the General Assembly's two budget committees on computerizing the campaign finance reports, detailing three options and costs.

The most expensive option, which would require all candidates and committees to file electronically, would cost $276,156 -- with up to another $100,000 needed for a consultant.

Under that plan, the first electronic filings would be due in 1999, for the 2002 statewide election.

Maryland was rated 42nd among the 50 states for its efforts to make campaign-financing data available to the public in a report by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group in Washington that monitors campaign-finance issues.

The Federal Election Commission has maintained computerized records on campaign contributions for years, and at least 21 states -- not including Maryland -- have some kind of database for fund-raising reports.

The computerization plan, which has failed to pass the legislature three years in a row, may stand a better chance this year because three of the state's most powerful politicians have come out in favor of the idea.

Both House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Miller have introduced campaign finance reform bills. Glendening also has said he favors computerizing the records.

Campaign contribution limits

Under Maryland's Election Code, contributors to political campaign committees are limited in the amount of money they can give in a four-year election cycle. The current cycle began Jan. 1, 1995, and ends Dec. 31, 1998 -- a month after the next statewide general election. Here are some key provisions on nonfederal contribution limits:

* Contributors are limited to giving a maximum of $10,000 to all candidates and slates in the election cycle.

* Contributors also are limited to giving a maximum of $4,000 to any single candidate or slate in the cycle. Contributions to a slate for governor and lieutenant governor are the exception, according to an attorney general's opinion. For such a slate, the limit for contributors is doubled to $8,000.

* Contributions by a corporation and any of its wholly owned subsidiaries -- as well as other corporations owned by the same stockholders -- are considered as coming from a single contributor. That means those corporations are restricted to the same $4,000 and $10,000 limits as single contributors.

* Contributors, not candidates, are responsible for compliance.

SOURCES: Maryland Election Code and attorney general's office

Campaign contribution overages

This is a list of political contributions by seven individuals and companies that appear to have violated Maryland election law by giving more than $10,000 during the last election cycle, July 1, 1991, to Dec. 31, 1994.

Peter G. Angelos ........................................ $17,330

$4,000 Gov. Parris N. Glendening

$3,000 Baltimore County circuit judges

$2,000 Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr.

$1,000 Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller

$1,000 Sen. Clarence W. Blount

$1,000 Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell

$1,000 former Sen. Michael J. Wagner

$1,000 Del. James M. Kelly

$1,000 21st District Democrats, Prince George's County

$1,000 former Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden

Sen. George W. Della Jr.

$500 Baltimore City sitting judges

$130 Del. Gerald J. Curran

$100 former Sen. Nancy L. Murphy

$100 Del. Maggie L. McIntosh

Companies controlled by John Paterakis .................. $26,700

H & S Bakery Inc. ....................................... $6,000

$850 former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean

$800 former Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski

$600 Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening

$500 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$500 Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

$500 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$500 Sen. Clarence W. Blount

$500 Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell

$500 Sen. George W. Della Jr.

$250 former Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke

Automatic Rolls Inc., Baltimore ......................... $7,400

$2,500 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$1,500 Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger

former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$600 Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

$500 Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell

$500 Sen. George W. Della Jr.

$250 Sen. Clarence W. Blount

$250 Del. Maggie L. McIntosh

Automatic Rolls of New England Inc. ..................... $2,250

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$500 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$500 Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger

Sen. Clarence W. Blount

Automatic Rolls of New Jersey Inc. ...................... $3,750

former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$500 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$250 Sen. Clarence W. Blount

$500 former Sen. Nancy L. Murphy

Automatic Rolls of New York Inc. ........................ $1,750

former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$500 Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger

Sen. Clarence W. Blount

Automatic Rolls of Virginia Inc. ........................ $3,950

$1,000 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$500 Sen. George W. Della Jr.

$500 Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

$500 former Sen. Nancy L. Murphy

$500 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$500 former Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke

$250 Sen. Clarence W. Blount

$200 Gov. Parris N. Glendening

Northeast Foods Inc. .................................... $850

$250 former Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke

$600 Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

Crispy Bagel Co. ........................................ $250

$250 former Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke

Bake Rite Rolls ......................................... $500

$500 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

Continental Foods Inc. .................................. $15,000

$3,850 Gov. Parris N. Glendening

$2,350 former Sen. John A. Pica Jr.

$2,200 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$2,000 former Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

$750 former Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski

$500 Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$300 former gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley

$300 Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger

former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean

$200 Sen. Clarence W. Blount

$200 Sen. F. Vernon Boozer

$200 former Sen. Janice Piccinini

$200 Sen. Perry Sfikas

$200 Baltimore City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.

Stephen A. Geppi ..................... ................... $12,500

$4,000 Gov. Parris N. Glendening

$3,500 former gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley

$1,000 Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

$1,000 former attorney general candidate Richard D. Bennett

former gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey

$2,000 Md. Democratic State Central Committee

Super Rite Foods .................... .................... $11,450

Super Rite Foods Inc. .............. ..................... $10,450

$6,000 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$4,000 Gov. Parris N. Glendening

$250 former gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley

$200 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

Basics/Metro Food Markets (Super Rite subsidiary) ....... $1,000

Gov. Parris N. Glendening

Evered Bardon Mid-Atlantic Inc. ......................... $11,500

$5,000 Md. Democratic State Central Committee

$3,000 Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke

$1,500 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$1,400 Gov. Parris N. Glendening

$400 Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell

$200 Sen. George W. Della Jr.

Baltimore Port Council ............ ...................... $10,580

$2,000 Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger

former Sen. John A. Pica Jr.

$1,300 former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg

$1,240 Sen. F. Vernon Boozer

$1,190 former Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski

$1,000 Sen. Michael J. Collins

$1,000 former Sen. Janice Piccinini

$750 Baltimore County Circuit Court Judges (slate)

$300 former gubernatorial candidate Helen Delich Bentley

$200 Del. John S. Arnick

SOURCE: Campaign finance reports filed by candidates with the State Administrative Board of Election Laws

Pub Date: 1/15/97

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