ANNAPOLIS -- The most active bankroller of candidates during the recent election in Maryland was not a lobbyist or a giant corporation or a group of lawyers devoted to good government.
No, the fattest checkbooks were wielded by a candidate doing business under several names: Reflections, The People's Choice, Montgomery Countians for Schaefer, Citizens for Schaefer and Friends of William Donald Schaefer.
Taken together, they could be thought of as "Schaefer PAC."
Governor Schaefer's largess exceeded that of the wealthiest political action committees in Maryland by a wide margin. The lawyers, doctors and Realtors -- the PAC leaders in this state -- handed out about $225,000 each.
With a long political agenda and a treasury of $2.4 million, Mr. Schaefer had deep pockets. He doled out more than $376,000, sometimes directing money to legislative friends and would-be friends through a maze of fund-raising committees.
"He likes a layered approach," says Michael Davis, a veteran campaign organizer and strategist who helped advise Mr. Schaefer on where his campaign money would help him most. Jim Smith, the campaign director, and Mark Wasserman, an administration official, were the other unofficial directors of Schaefer PAC.
Final judgments about whom to help and how much to give were always made by Mr. Schaefer, according to Mr. Davis, who said the governor sometimes overruled his political strategists when they advised him that a race was not winnable and a dubious use of the money.
"The governor," Mr. Davis says, "is very loyal to people who have been good and loyal to him."
But some analysts of the political process find serious problems with the ability of well-funded candidates to divert their money to others.
"He was obviously trying to buy the legislature, and he didn't want people to know the extent of his contributions to others," says Phillip Andrews, executive director of Common Cause, Maryland. "The way this money was transferred . . . suggests he didn't want it revealed how much money he gave to other races."
Mr. Andrews and Common Cause believe Mr. Schaefer was taking advantage of a loophole in Maryland law that, while limiting contributions by individuals to $1,500 per election, allows unlimited transfers among political committees.
"This use of campaign contributions breaks the link between those who gave the governor money," Mr. Andrews said. "At the same time, it weakens the link between the recipients of that money and their constituents.
"These candidates are now more accountable to the governor than they would otherwise be."
Campaign director Mr. Smith says Mr. Andrews' views "don't reflect political reality."
"When people contribute funds to the governor, they recognize they're giving a contribution to the Democratic leader of the state," he said. "They're helping to provide the support for his leadership and they expect he'll exercise those judgments wisely."
Moreover, campaign aides say the governor has always liked to have more than one committee raising money -- not to obscure the breadth of fund raising or the contributions made, they insist, but to create opportunities for a wider circle of friends and associates to be helpful.
This year, his fund-raising committees were headed by friends from Chestertown to East Baltimore.
In charge of Citizens for Schaefer were Elmer E. Horsey, the mayor of Chestertown, and Andrew Mothershead of Prince George's County. Mr. Horsey's wife, Patricia, was an officer of Friends of William Donald Schaefer, as was Henry Kollein, a Baltimore labor leader.
Friends of William Donald Schaefer received about $61,000 during the election -- all transferred from Citizens for Schaefer -- but did nothing with the money. The $61,000 remains as part of a kitty, amounting to more than $200,000 in Mr. Schaefer's various accounts available for future political use.
Mr. Smith says there was no central clearinghouse -- no one to decide if a contribution should go into Citizens for Schaefer or Reflections and no central roster of which candidates were getting what.
He said the Montgomery committee sprang up "because the governor was so popular there. People wanted to raise and spend money specifically in Montgomery County."
But the committee's reports for the general election show activities that covered much of the state. Though earlier contributions came from Montgomery County, the committee reported only $1,000 from a Montgomery County address for the general election. The rest came from Baltimore and Northern Virginia. Similarly, most of the money was passed on to candidates running in districts far beyond Montgomery.
The Montgomery County committee gave money to four Montgomery County candidates and 11 candidates from other counties, including Washington, Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Prince George's.