Helen Bentley, candidate for governor, still renting a House campaign office

February 09, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Three months after announcing her gubernatorial candidacy, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley appears to be keeping her political options open, continuing to rent a congressional campaign office and to maintain a congressional campaign fund that exceeded $100,000 at the end of December.

While there have been no signs that Mrs. Bentley is considering abandoning her gubernatorial race and running again for her House seat, Joyce L. Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, said rumors of such a move are "widespread."

"I absolutely cannot imagine she would do that," Mrs. Terhes said yesterday. But, Mrs. Terhes added, "It's said to me constantly."

State Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican candidate for Mrs. Bentley's House seat, said, "I think it's rumors the Democrats have put out." Based on conversations with Mrs. Bentley, her aggressive fund raising for the gubernatorial race and the relatively minor congressional fund raising she did in the last half of 1993, Mr. Ehrlich said, he is convinced that she is committed to the run for governor. "She's going around the state and raising a ton of money," Mr. Ehrlich said.

Mrs. Bentley announced Nov. 10 that she would run for governor. Since then, the Baltimore County Republican has opened a gubernatorial campaign office on York Road in Towson next door to her congressional campaign office. But she has not given up the congressional office, for which she has been paying $2,000-a-month rent. Mrs. Bentley said the office is leased until the end of March.

According to a House campaign finance report covering the last half of 1993, Mrs. Bentley paid five members of her congressional campaign staff for work through December, 6 1/2 weeks after she announced her gubernatorial campaign. She said that with one exception, they were winding down her congressional campaign affairs and were not working on her gubernatorial campaign at the time. "But they will be now," she said, because they are no longer working for her congressional campaign committee.

The one exception, a receptionist, did begin work on the gubernatorial campaign before Dec. 31 and the money will be refunded to the congressional campaign.

Margaret E. Mullen, treasurer of Mrs. Bentley's congressional campaign committee, is also treasurer of the corporation that owns both the gubernatorial and congressional campaign offices on York Road. She said the gubernatorial campaign is also paying $2,000-a-month rent for its headquarters.

Asked about the money left in her congressional campaign account, Mrs. Bentley said, "We'll worry about that later." On Nov. 12, she moved $4,000 of that money to her gubernatorial campaign, the maximum allowed under state law, according to Rebecca Wicklund, an official of the state Elections Board.

Mrs. Bentley could give the remaining money to other state or federal candidates or political party organizations, or return it to the contributors. But she still could use it for a congressional campaign.

Mrs. Bentley raised more than $240,000 last year for a congressional campaign, all but $12,000 of it before June 30, and had a balance of $106,000 on Dec. 31. In January, the FEC asked her to state her campaign intentions in light of her 1993 fund raising. On Jan. 31, she wrote a letter saying that she was no longer a House candidate.

But, according to Scott Moxley, an FEC spokesman, if Mrs. Bentley simply wrote another letter saying that she has, after all, decided to run again for the House, that campaign money would be available to her unless she had disposed of it. The filing deadline for gubernatorial and House races is July 5.

There was no indication at the FEC yesterday that Mrs. Bentley's letter had been received. The agency is also awaiting a reply to its request for details on $55,000 in payments to campaign staffers during the first six months of the year.

Federal election rules require that staff members who received more than $200 be listed. In a report covering the first six months of the year, the Bentley campaign said it had spent $55,000 on a "payroll account" but listed none of the recipients. Mrs. Mullen said yesterday that that information had been inadvertently omitted and that she had sent it to the FEC in the last few days. It did not appear in the agency's public records yesterday afternoon.

Both Mrs. Bentley and Mrs. Mullen said emphatically that none of the payroll money for which details have not yet been made public went to Mrs. Bentley. An examination of FEC records shows that Mrs. Bentley supplied the detailed payroll information regularly until mid-1992 but that none had been supplied since then. Mrs. Mullen ascribed the omissions to an oversight.

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