WASHINGTON -- The bloody Yugoslavian war is being fought in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District with another weapon -- the checkbook.
Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the Baltimore County Republican incumbent whose Serbian roots have made her the chief defender of Serbia on Capitol Hill, continued to pick up thousands of dollars from her ethnic comrades around the country, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
Meanwhile, her Democratic opponent, Michael Hickey, Jr., is also pulling in contributions from ethnic Americans on the other side of the Balkan conflict: Croatians, Albanians and Muslims from California to Virginia.
Mrs. Bentley, who has collected some $80,000 from the nationwide Serbian community since Yugoslavia dissolved into ethnic fighting in 1989, pulled in another $1,450 in individual contributions from Serbian-Americans in New York and Illinois during the past three months, according to Federal Election Commission records.
At the same time, she estimated that she collected $6,500 during a $50-per-person fund raiser she held last month at American Serbian Memorial Hall in Detroit. The federal reports only itemize individual campaign contributions that exceed $200. Her FEC report also shows she spent $3,143 of her campaign money on the Detroit event.
Mr. Hickey has attacked Mrs. Bentley for her support of Serbia in the Congress and her work with SerbNet, Inc., a Serbian-American group created to lobby for Serbia.
Serbia is widely viewed in the international community as the chief aggressor against Bosnia, Croatia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia.
Mrs. Bentley, who was named president of the organization, apparently violated House rules by using her office and staff to drum up support for SerbNet, according to a June story in The Sun. Mrs. Bentley, whose parents were born in Yugoslavia, now says she now holds the title of honorary president.
As a result of his charges against Mrs. Bentley, Mr. Hickey has begun to pick up campaign support from the Serbian opponents, estimating that about one-third of his total financial support -- between $5,000 and $6,000 -- has come from those groups, mostly Croatian-Americans.
"We're also getting money from Muslim groups . . . very upset with Helen Delich Bentley and the ethnic cleansing in the area," said Mr. Hickey, adding that the support is mostly donations of $25 to $50 and has come from a variety of states, including California, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Two checks were larger, however. Dragan Jezic, a Croatian-American from Lutherville, donated $1,000 to Mr. Hickey in September. Also last month, Zivko Striva, a self-employed Croatian-American from Tenafly, N.J., gave $250 to the Hickey campaign.
Steven Rukina, a Croatian-American from Gaithersburg who is active in Montgomery County Democratic circles, said in an interview yesterday that he has spearheaded efforts to raise money in the Croatian community.
"That's small potatoes compared to what [Mrs. Bentley's] getting," Mr. Hickey said of his donations.
Mr. Hickey vowed to treat all sides "fairly and squarely" and said he favored a negotiated settlement in the region.
Mrs. Bentley says she favors the same -- but complains that Serbia has been unfairly singled out while the other ethnic groups have committed atrocities.
The ethnic money may not matter much to either candidate.
Mr. Hickey has raised a total of only $15,000 in individual contributions this year through the end of September. Mrs. Bentley has pulled in $597,000 over the same time.
HOW YOU CAN CAST AN ABSENTEE BALLOT
Registered voters who are unable to make it to the polls on Nov. 3 are eligible to vote by absentee ballot. Here's how:
Non-emergency requests: The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot is Tuesday. You can apply in person at your local elections board or send a letter to the board requesting a ballot. The letter must include your name and address, the address where the ballot should be mailed and the reason you will be unable to make it to the polls. Common reasons are planned vacations or business trips and scheduled hospital visits. Ballots must be received by the election board -- delivered either by mail or in person -- no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Emergency requests: Voters unable to make it to the polls because of an emergency, such as an unscheduled hospital stay, can still obtain an absentee ballot after Tuesday. For information, call (800) 222-VOTE.