Attorney reviewed political committee practices last year

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An attorney for a national political committee headed by Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller reviewed the committee's practices a year ago to make sure that it was technically complying with state campaign finance laws in Maryland and elsewhere, a newly surfaced memo shows.

Contributions made by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee were the subject of news reports this month that raised questions of whether the committee might have skirted provisions of Maryland's campaign finance laws.

An Aug. 12 memorandum by committee attorney Judith L. Corley to the panel's then-executive director, Rob Engel, spells out what she described as the "legal basis for the DLCC's solicitation and expenditure" of contributions in various states.

"Before making a contribution or undertaking any other activity in a state, the DLCC reviews the provisions of the relevant state law that might apply to its activities in that state," Corley wrote.

She continued: "This review includes such issues as whether the state statute contains any prohibitions or source restrictions on certain types of funds, what are the contribution limits, if any, and what are the registration and reporting obligations. DLCC complies in all respects with the requirements of the relevant state law."

It was not clear what prompted the memo, but Corley wrote that it was prepared in response to a request by the DLCC. She could not be reached late yesterday.

The committee's contributions in Maryland have drawn critical scrutiny in part because of a $200,000 contribution to the committee by Maryland racing executive Joseph A. De Francis.

De Francis, who was lobbying the General Assembly to legalize slot machine gambling, contributed the money after an Aug. 28 meeting with Miller.

Miller is a longtime backer of slots for Maryland and wants to put them at racetracks only, which would benefit De Francis.

A new filing that the DLCC plans to make this week to the Internal Revenue Service reveals that De Francis made an additional $25,000 contribution to the committee just as the General Assembly session was starting, according to paperwork obtained by The Sun.

The filing covers the period from Jan. 1 through June 30, which was not covered in previous reports to the IRS.

It shows a $25,000 contribution from De Francis on Jan. 8, the day the legislative session started. Other sources said the check was dated and given Jan. 7, but that could not be independently verified.

Maryland law prohibits lawmakers from soliciting or accepting campaign funds while the legislature is in session, according to Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch.

However, the law is narrowly written and "clearly wouldn't apply" to soliciting contributions for a national political committee, Zarnoch said.

De Francis issued a statement yesterday defending his contributions to the DLCC - his first public statement since The Washington Post raised questions about them in a news article published this month.

"The contributions made to the DLCC complied completely with all state and federal laws," De Francis said. "There was absolutely no pressure, either direct or implicit, brought to bear on me to make contributions, nor was there ever any suggestion that I would benefit from the contributions."

He said he had no say over how the committee money was distributed or which candidates received the money.

Federal Elections Commission reports show that De Francis-controlled companies have regularly contributed to national political campaign organizations. They gave $250,000 to the Republican National Committee in 1998 and $37,500 to the Democratic National Committee in 2000.

The DLCC's report to the IRS for Jan. 1 to June 30 shows that the committee raised $809,702 and spent $992,285. The committee did not contribute any money to Maryland candidates then, the report shows.

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