There's not that much in common between downtown Baltimore and Maryland's rural Eastern Shore. But when it comes to politics and a mutual admiration for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the kinship between city and country folk can be downright chummy.
For instance, when the dogged but cash-poor political action group Peoples Choice needs a transfusion of money to help candidates in the city and surrounding areas, who does it turn to for the biggest handout?
None other than Citizens for Schaefer '90, a relatively well-heeled political action committee based in Chestertown that is set up ostensibly for the re-election of the governor.
The financial bond between the two groups is not illegal or even discouraged under current law. But the head of the citizen lobbying group Common Cause of Maryland said transfers of money from one PAC to another could be misleading to contributors.
Three times this election year, Citizens for Schaefer has responded for calls to subsidize political activity of Peoples Choice. Of the nearly $107,000 collected by Citizens for Schaefer through breakfast and reception fund-raisers on behalf of the governor's re-election campaign, a total of $23,500 has been transferred directly to Peoples Choice coffers, boosting the treasury to just under $35,000.
The funds are used to pay partial printing costs of campaign materials for some city and county candidates who are running on tickets headed by Schaefer, according to Frank Babusci, Peoples Choice chairman and a longtime friend of the governor's.
Babusci, who described Peoples Choice as an organization formed "to represent the little people," said he and other members of the PAC try to respond to requests for financial help from candidates they think will serve the public well.
Although recipients of Peoples Choice money do not have to belong to any specific political party, said Babusci, all have been Democrats so far this year. Babusci said the one requirement of the candidates supported by Peoples Choice is that they must back Schaefer.
Babusci said yesterday he does not confer with either the governor or Schaefer's re-election staff before dispersing money among Peoples Choice candidates.
This year's beneficiaries of Peoples Choice money have received between $100 and $3,500 in contributions. They include incumbent Del. Hattie N. Harrison, D-City, Leslie Hutchinson, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates from Baltimore County, and Frank J. Komenda, a Democratic senator from Prince George's County who lost a primary bid for re-election. Komenda, who received $3,500, is one of only a few candidates getting Peoples Choice support who is not from the city or immediate suburban areas.
Elmer Horsey, Chestertown's mayor and a longtime Schaefer friend who is chairman of Citizens for Schaefer, said his group sends money to Peoples Choice because the PAC backs Democrats in general and Schaefer in particular.
"We're working on a unified Democratic ticket," Horsey said. "Contrary to what some people think, we're in an election. We have our little campaign committee and we decide if these funds are needed and going to the right people."
Horsey said he does not seek Schaefer's advice before responding to financial requests from Peoples Choice. Jim Smith, who heads Schaefer's re-election committee, said he is not involved in decisions made by either Peoples Choice or Citizens for Schaefer.
Phil Andrews, executive director for Common Cause, said his group supports legislation that would restrict financial transfers between PACs in cases where contributions are solicited under one candidate's name and given to help others.
"If I were one of those contributors," he said, "I think I'd have cause to feel upset."
But several of those who gave to Citizens for Schaefer said they were willing to see some of the money go to Schaefer-friendly candidates.
"It doesn't upset me," said one Eastern Shore resident who asked not to be identified. "When I made the decision to give, I meant it to go to Governor Schaefer. But I'm not bitter. I would've given it anyway had I known someone else would get some."
Nevertheless, Andrews said PAC contributions in Maryland are wielding greater influence over lawmakers than ever and should be restricted by law.
PACs gave more than $3 million -- more than double the amount distributed four years ago -- to candidates running for state offices this year, said Andrews.
"That trend we think is alarming," he said. "We don't see any end in sight. We're on the way to becoming a state where big money starts to dominate campaigns."
A Common Cause report released yesterday covering donations from the 1986 election through Oct. 21 of this year showed that 83 percent of the PAC money went to incumbents.
With nearly $290,000 of his $2.3 million campaign treasury coming from special interest groups, Schaefer was the largest recipient of PAC money. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, received the second largest amount with almost $100,000.
Professionals such as lawyers, real estate agents and doctors dominate PAC donations in Maryland, according to the Common Cause study.
Legal MD, a PAC representing trial lawyers, gave $243,741 to candidates running for office this year. Realtors PAC Maryland gave $224,066 and Medical PAC MD gave $223,461, the study showed.