Like the unstoppable bucket brigade in Walt Disney's film "Fantasia," a mysterious Texan kept sending thousands of dollars in checks to state Sen. Martin G. Madden, despite Madden's efforts to return them.
Madden said he thought to himself: "Who is this person, and why is he sending me money?"
It wasn't some wealthy secret admirer.
The Senate minority leader from Howard County learned yesterday that he hasn't tapped the political mother lode. It was just an apparent computer glitch at NationsBank that didn't wait for 2000.
Three checks totaling $11,500 arrived from Theodor Brendle-Neher from late May through June, Madden said, in the form of NationsBank checks. He returned the first two, but they came back to him.
The donations exceed the $4,000 a Maryland politician is allowed by law to accept from any individual over a four-year election cycle, and Madden said his policy is not to accept money from out-of-state donors he doesn't know.
Usually, that involves returning a $60 check to someone, not kissing goodbye an amount equal to half of the money Madden, a Republican, raises in a typical noncampaign year.
In Duncanville, Texas, Susanne Schiess, vice president and U.S. director of several Brendle-Neher investment companies, couldn't imagine what was going on. Her boss is a German real estate investor with interests from Switzerland to Hawaii, but neither he nor she had heard of Madden, she said. She thought she had transferred money from one company's NationsBank account to another account, using her office computer.
"It seemed to be the easiest way of doing it, since he [Brendle-Neher] is out of the country and can't sign checks," she said.
She made an electronic transfer and went on vacation, Schiess said. When she returned, there were the bank drafts from Madden. She returned Madden's checks to him, thinking he had made a mistake. "I didn't know what that was all about," she said.
Later, she began getting overdraft notices from NationsBank indicating that her boss' account was short $11,500.
"It was just freaky," she said, adding that she has dealt with NationsBank offices in Dallas and Houston since then but hasn't received an explanation.
"I don't think a bank guy can explain it," she said. "I think it will have to be a computer guy."
The bank has corrected the error, Schiess said.
NationsBank did not return calls yesterday.
Madden said he has no accounts at NationsBank and can't imagine where the bank got his campaign committee's name and address.