More school funds found in war chest Universities bought fund-raiser tickets

November 02, 1990|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent Suzanne Wooton and Joel McCord of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

FROSTBURG -- The tally for contributions to Gov. William Donald Schaefer's re-election campaign from non-profit state university accounts climbed to $2,200 yesterday, and campaign officials said they are still reviewing the books.

The contributions, including $1,000 from the University of Maryland System Foundation on behalf of its College Park campus, are to be returned beginning today, according to Ricki Baker, Schaefer campaign press secretary.

The checks were made out to "Reflections," the name of the governor's 1990 campaign. All but one were for the purchase of tickets to a December 1988 fund-raising dinner in Baltimore, Ms. Baker said.

They were purchased in response to a letter from the governor's campaign to universities earlier that year.

Campaign officials initiated the search Wednesday after learning from newspaper accounts of a possible $100 contribution from the Frostburg State University Foundation, Ms. Baker said. That day, a $500 check from Salisbury State University was discovered and returned.

In addition to checks from Salisbury, Frostburg and College Park, the governor's campaign received $500 from the University of Maryland Medical Faculty Foundation Inc., the fund-raising arm of the medical school in Baltimore, and $100 from Bowie State University.

Federal law, foundation bylaws and University of Maryland System policy bar the use of foundation or university money for political purposes. In all cases, the contributions came from unrestricted gifts to the tax-exempt university foundations, the fund-raising arms of the University of Maryland campuses.

"I was not a happy camper today," said John Martin, president of the University of Maryland Foundation. He said he discovered the $1,000 check signed by his predecessor, Robert Smith, at the same time as the governor's campaign.

"Something slipped through here. We were not knowingly purchasing tickets to a political event," Mr. Martin said. He said the foundation, which holds funds for five of the 11 state university campuses, carefully monitors checks, and last year found an inappropriate check to a politician and asked that it be returned.

In the past few days, the presidents of Frostburg, Salisbury and Bowie state universities have cited the need for their institutions to be represented at political and civic events as a reason for purchasing the tickets. They said they did not know they could be violating the law.

William E. Kirwan, the president at College Park, said he didn't believe the purchase of tickets to the December 1988 fund-raiser violated the law against making political contributions from a tax-exempt account, because of the invitation's wording.

"The letter says the purpose of this event is to help support the governor's effort to promote the state of Maryland," he said. A copy of the letter was unavailable yesterday. A member of the legal staff represented College Park at the event; Dr. Kirwan, who was acting president at the time, did not attend.

Afterward, university presidents and former Chancellor John S. Toll discussed the matter at a meeting and decided not to support any future event associated with a politician, Dr. Kirwan said.

Dr. Toll expressed surprise yesterday that any money from the university foundation had turned up in the governor's coffers. Political contributions of that sort have been banned for at least 24 years, he said. "That's always been clear."

Still, Dr. Toll said he continued to remind university presidents from time to time against using foundation money for political contributions.

One of those he warned was James E. Lyons Sr., president of Bowie State.

Dr. Lyons said the $100 ticket he bought with foundation money for a March fund-raiser for Governor Schaefer in Prince George's County was the first he had purchased since then-Chancellor Toll advised him against the practice.

"I clearly will have to find out why that fund was tapped for that one," he said. Dr. Lyons said he did not realize until the publicity this week about Frostburg that buying such tickets was illegal.

"I would not knowingly violate the law for a $25 ticket," he said.

Prior to his conversation with the former chancellor, Dr. Lyons said, he had spent the fund's money on political fund-raisers a number of times, just as he had purchased tickets to civic fund-raisers sponsored by a variety of groups, such as the state Human Relations Commission.

Sometimes candidates sent him one or two tickets to purchase; other times he received a package of 10. Ticket prices ranged from $25 to $125, he said.

Dr. Lyons said he saw political fund-raisers as a way to promote Bowie State, not only with politicians but also with parents interested in sending children to Bowie. But he said he was also aware that politicians, who control purse strings to college budgets, expected him to attend.

"There is an expectation at many of these activities that when they call the roll and look around the room, they want to see you there," he said.

At least three other state university presidents said they dipped into personal bank accounts to pay for such activities.

Frostburg officials acknowledged earlier this week that they have used about $1,240 in funds from a foundation account to purchase tickets to political events.

The penalty for misusing educational foundation money to support or oppose a political candidate is loss of tax-exempt status, according to Domenic J. LaPonzina, public affairs officer for the Internal Revenue Service in Baltimore.

"They're audited just like other taxpayers," he said, and such contributions would have to be evaluated individually.

The foundations have disclosed no political contributions to the IRS, a check of five years' worth of annual tax information reports revealed yesterday.

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