Neall On the Offensive

September 19, 1990

Robert R. Neall's bid to succeed Anne Arundel County Executive O. James Lighthizer has turned decidedly nasty. Mr. Neall, poring through rival Theodore Sophocleus' campaign finance report, says he has unearthed questionable cash contributions including money from six residents of a seniors' apartment complex who claim they never paid for tickets to a fund-raiser. The tip-off: the name of Mr. Neall's maternal uncle was listed as having bought a $25 ticket to a Sophocleus bull roast. The meticulous Mr. Neall says he has discovered a raft of errors ranging from the simple transposition of numerical columns to cash contributions above the $100 legal limit.

Mr. Neall contends these infractions point to the possibility of laundered contributions -- from sources Mr. Sophocleus would rather keep secret, or from benefactors who have already surpassed the legal limit of giving.

For his part, Mr. Sophocleus says the errors resulted from bookkeeping mistakes rather than any attempt to circumvent election laws. The seniors, he says, were given free tickets after their apartment complex donated the proceeds of a bake sale to his campaign. Even if all this suggests just a collection of harmless mixups, it raises questions about Mr. Sophocleus' management abilities.

Still, Mr. Neall's extrapolation of accounting snafus into a Draconian scheme to mislead voters is an obvious political ploy. A few weeks ago, the big question was how badly Mr. Neall would slaughter the sacrificial lamb offered up in last Tuesday's primary. Mr. Sophocleus, however, is no lamb. The county-wide support evidenced by his unexpected, sweeping victory last week has turned the general election into a real contest. The 51-year old Linthicum pharmacist carried all but 23 of Anne Arundel's 133 districts with 43 percent of the Democratic vote.

This constitutes a rude awakening for the Neall organization, which before the primary had discounted Mr. Sophocleus as an amusing but harmless threat. Even before Mr. Neall stumbled across his uncle's name on his rival's campaign finance ledger, his campaign strategists were planning a campaign pitting Mr. Neall's fiscal conservatism in his years in the General Assembly against Mr. Sophocleus' role as a consensus-builder on the county council. The campaign finance report has provided the ++ GOP with a prosecution-like exhibit. But voters should remember that this is an election campaign, not a criminal proceeding.

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