State Democrats broke, begging for money Md. headquarters may have to close by Thanksgiving

November 11, 1993|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Only 12 months from an election in which every top state political job is up for grabs, Maryland's Democratic Party is so broke it may have to close its headquarters by Thanksgiving, party Chairwoman Vera P. Hall said yesterday.

The party last week mailed an urgent plea to prominent Maryland Democrats, including its majority membership in the General Assembly, begging them "to contribute as much as possible immediately."

Ms. Hall blamed the shortfall directly on her predecessor, Montgomery County developer Nathan Landow, who, she said, left the party holding the bag for nearly $70,000 in debts when he resigned as chairman in July 1992.

Mr. Landow denies that claim, calling it "a shocker, to say the least."

"They're broke and they're just looking for a scapegoat," he said.

Ms. Hall said the party needs to raise $10,000 right away to keep its Annapolis office open, and needs more than $15,000 to cover debts she says Mr. Landow left behind. The party office assists Democratic candidates, coordinates party meetings, and dispatches newsletters about party matters.

Even though Democrats control both the White House and the Maryland State House, the party's financial calamity may prove to be more than just an embarrassment.

It could hamper its effectiveness in 1994, when the governorship, eight congressional seats, a U.S. Senate seat, all 188 General Assembly seats, and a host of other state and local offices are up for grabs.

The Nov. 3 fund-raising plea, written the day after big Republican wins in Virginia, New Jersey and New York, said, "It is obvious we face a resurgent Republican Party. We must act now -- before the 1994 elections -- if we are to stop this Republican tide."

In an interview, Ms. Hall said that after taking over the party apparatus in the midst of the Clinton campaign last year, she discovered that:

* Mr. Landow had unilaterally agreed to pay Maryland Public Television $10,000 to cover production costs associated with a March 1992 Democratic presidential debate at the University of Maryland at College Park. The party still owes $6,000 from that bill.

* He had left the party with a $16,407 bill from the Washington law firm of Arent Fox Kinter Plotkin & Kahn, which, she said, stemmed from legal advice the party got on redistricting. Gerard E. Evans, chairman of the Prince George's Democratic Party, however, said the bill arose from a case involving the disputed selection of a state delegate in Prince George's County.

Mr. Landow said there was "never an agreement" to pay Arent Fox for the Prince George's County case, saying the bill "must have come in after I left."

But Mr. Evans insisted "Nate agreed to pay it," although he concurred with Mr. Landow that the size of the bill was unexpected.

The party still owes the law firm $9,407.

* Mr. Landow had accepted $42,500 from the Democratic National Committee for the party's "coordinated campaign" in 1992, but put the money in the wrong account and then spent it on other party activities. Ms. Hall said the party later had to come up with a like amount to get the "coordinated campaign" account back into balance.

She also complained about components of a computer system purchased during Mr. Landow's tenure were missing and records of the purchase were incomplete; and that bills related to a bus trip Mr. Landow arranged for delegates to the Democratic National Convention in New York had not been paid, even though participants shelled out $125 apiece.

Mr. Landow was incredulous. He labeled some of the allegations "ridiculous," and insisted that all bills were paid before he left, except for the one to Maryland Public Television. Even that one he called "reasonable" because it was associated with the presidential debate, which he called "the greatest event the Maryland Democratic Party ever had in its history."

He also said he did not understand the dispute over money for the "coordinated campaign," saying it was not "some loan" that had to be repaid. And he said the bus trip to New York was paid for in advance, or else the bus never would have left Annapolis.

He suggested that Ms. Hall was blaming him in an attempt to cover up her own failures in fund raising. But she replied that any problem she has had raising money is attributable to the bad feeling within the party that is the residue of Mr. Landow's stewardship.

"I don't like to call people names, but I've never met anybody like him in my life," Ms. Hall said, adding as politely as she could: "I would have reason to doubt his straightforwardness."

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