Democrats walk away from walk-around money

THE POLITICAL GAME

October 21, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

As primordial programming leads migratory birds safely home, the impulse to pass out walk-around money has led Democrats to victory in Baltimore.

The weather gets nippy, the days get short and the faithful feel a pang, a certainty that $25 or $50 is coming their way once again.

Turned out in vast numbers by money and love of the democratic process, Baltimore clubs called Stonewall, Trenton, Proven, United and East End piled up margins that rendered irrelevant the performance of opponents elsewhere in Maryland. For much of this century, Big Baltimore margins were everything.

Republicans bemoaned the practice of walk-around money.

But the GOP has used it, too. And they went to the experts for help.

In 1988, more than $52,000 in Republican money sluiced into the campaign treasuries of various Democratic clubs in behalf of George Bush, then about to trounce Michael Dukakis -- even in Maryland. The money was used for the printing of ballots and for employing squads of so-called lit droppers.

A dozen big checks were written on the account of Free State Victory '88, a special committee established for that year's election by the Baltimore Republican Central Committee. Free State handled money sent to Maryland by the Republican National Committee and other donors. In general, this money was to be used for party building. But the rules were flexible. Almost anything seemed to qualify.

To stay within the laws passed by reformers in Annapolis, payment to the workers had to be made on a day other than Election Day.

Thus, on Oct. 3, 1988, according to reports filed with the FEC, representatives of Democratic fiefs from all over the city picked up checks of up to $5,000 from Republicans.

Representatives of proud old clubs like Trenton, the United Northeast Democrats, the Independent Democratic Club and various others lined up at an office on Maryland Avenue.

The FEC reports say the money was paid for "pre-election day distribution of literature." Other checks were written for the printing of ballots that would carry the names of Republicans but would be distributed by Democrats.

One of these carried Republican George Bush, Republican Alan L. Keyes, running that year against Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, and Republican Third District congressional candidate Ross Z. Pierpont. Some clubs took the money with conditions: they would only agree to 50 percent Republicans on their ballot, for example. They had their pride.

These clubs wanted George Bush. They didn't like the politics of Michael Dukakis.

The Republicans' objective was to keep the margin of victory in Baltimore as low as possible. They succeeded. Mr. Bush won Maryland.

"It wasn't such a bad thing," says David Blumberg, Republican chairman in Baltimore who signed the checks. "It was good strategy. And it was one of the few things you could do to keep the margin low."

By many authoritative accounts, the architect of this strategy and of Free State Victory '88 was Helen Delich Bentley, the congresswoman from the Second District. Representative Bentley, though, disavows any involvement.

"Bentley called me," says Edward "Reds" Fogarty, who got $5,000 of the Free State money. A lifelong Democrat from Northeast Baltimore, Mr. Fogarty says the Bush-Dukakis race was "no contest." Mr. Fogarty and many of his neighbors were for Bush then and now. He passed the $5,000 on to others, he said, but he declined to discuss how or to whom.

When Mrs. Bentley was told that several of those involved in the process said she was its leader, she insisted she was not. She also denied that a similar effort was contemplated for this election year.

Mr. Fogarty said he had been led to believe he would hear from the Republicans again this year, but so far, nothing. With Mr. Blumberg and others flatly refusing to participate, the 1988 plan may not be revived this year.

Various reasons are given for the decision to eschew the walk-around game this year. If Republicans are getting stronger in Maryland, why do they need Democrats and walk-around money?

This year, some Republicans think the vote for Bill Clinton could be big enough to make an investment with Democratic clubs a dubious proposition. The tactic of controlling margins only works in close races.

Finally, even Democrats say they are walking away from walk-around money.

xTC A worker in the ranks of East Baltimore's Proven Democratic Team appeared at the team headquarters the other day with a curious proposition: He wanted to work for Bill Clinton. He claimed he was a Baltimore Democrat. But he didn't want to be paid.

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