Campaign donations draw fine

The Baltimore Sun

A developer and political contributor will pay $55,000 in civil fines after an investigation by the Maryland state prosecutor revealed that he had made third-party campaign donations through subordinates.

Edward St. John, chief executive of St. John Properties Inc., encouraged his vice presidents to make political contributions and then reimbursed those contributions in year-end bonuses, prosecutors said.

In 2006, six vice presidents of St. John's company wrote checks to then-Mayor Martin O'Malley for between $2,500 and $3,500 each. That year, five vice presidents donated to Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

St. John and his companies made donations to many candidates, but O'Malley and Smith are listed in an affidavit filed by prosecutors because of the third-party contributions. Prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to charge St. John criminally.

As part of the settlement agreement, St. John disclosed all contributions made by limited liability companies associated with St. John Properties. Those companies made $300,000 in contributions during one four-year election cycle.

Maryland law limits contributions from individuals or businesses to a total of $10,000 per four-year election cycle. No more than $4,000 of that can go to any one candidate.

"While the total contributions in this case did not exceed the amounts permitted by Maryland law, the use of third parties or LLCs to disguise the true source of contributions certainly violates the spirit of Maryland's law," State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said in a statement.

In addition to the civil fines, St. John will contribute $55,000 to College Bound, a scholarship fund for underprivileged students.

"When Mr. St. John became aware of the possibility that such reimbursements might be construed as violations of the election law, he and his senior executives immediately repaid the bonus amounts," read a statement from St. John's lawyer, William J. Murphy.

"Mr. St. John and the companies have maintained detailed records of their campaign contributions and have endeavored at all times to follow the complex requirements of the Maryland election law," the statement said.

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