Legislators, lawyers, lobbyists and the lieutenant governor testified in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday on former county councilman Gary Huddles' motion to dismiss theft charges against him for borrowing about $50,000 from his campaign fund in 1987.
Defense witnesses told Judge Barbara Kerr Howe that the law not only doesn't forbid such loans but that a provision that outlawed them was repealed.
At least two legislators, Delegate Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, who chairs the Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, and fellow-committeeman Delegate John J. Bishop III, R-Baltimore County, said they had been frustrated repeatedly in their attempts to plug loopholes in the elections law.
Ms. Perkins said newspaper stories and gossip about other candidates' campaign practices reinforced the belief that the law needs strengthening. But, she said, "I was fed up" with taking a leadership role.
Outside the courtroom, she declined to give examples.
Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, former state senate president and a friend of Mr. Huddles for 25 years, said he favors full disclosure laws over long but incomplete lists of prohibitions "that create problems."
"We are more concerned that whatever is expended, is disclosed," he said.
"If a majority of people in the legislature feel something should be prohibited, you would spell it out," Mr. Steinberg testified.
Where there have been specific abuses in spending campaign funds, specific legislation eventually has been passed to end it, he said.
But under current law, he told defense attorney Robert B. Schulman, "loans to candidates are absolutely not prohibited."
Under cross-examination, the lieutenant governor told Senior State Prosecutor Scott E. Nevin, "What you're doing is proving the problem: The campaign laws are so ambiguous and so confusing, that we have been debating for 10 years!"
Also called as witnesses were former Baltimore City Circuit Judge Edgar B. Silver, who cited his experience in politics since he was a boy and called the elections law "vague"; and Howard Cardin, the attorney for Mr. Huddles' campaign treasurer.
The hearing is to resume Tuesday on Mr. Huddles' motion to dismiss the charges, which were filed July 22. Mr. Nevin said he didn't plan to call any witnesses, only to argue the law before Judge Howe rules. A Nov. 25 trial date has been set on the charges against Mr. Huddles -- theft, fraudulent misappropriation money for which he was responsible and violating state election law by not passing the transaction through his campaign treasurer.
Although yesterday's testimony centered upon the vagueness of the elections law, the defense also contends that the withdrawals of money from the campaign fund to cover stock investments occurred in 1987 and were repaid by 1989 -- too long ago to prosecute, and that Mr. Huddles wasn't a declared candidate for anything at the time. The money eventually was returned or donated to charity, they said.
Mr. Huddles, a four-term 2nd District councilman who was considered the front-runner for county executive, withdrew from politics after the revelation in 1986 that he had borrowed and not repaid $60,000 from former Old Court Savings and Loan Association President Jeffrey A. Levitt. He later repaid the debt.
Alan M. Rifkin, a corporate attorney, lobbyist and former chief legislative officer to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, testified about his unsuccessful efforts to resolve ambiguities in the state's Fair Elections Practices Act in light of recommendations by a commission appointed by then-Gov. Harry Hughes.
A bill that would have barred use of campaign funds for any expenditure other than a campaign "failed unanimously" in the Senate, said Mr. Rifkin, who is to continue testifying Tuesday.