Opponents question gift to Sophocleus campaign

September 11, 1994|By John Rivera and John A. Morris | John Rivera and John A. Morris,Sun Staff Writers

When Democratic county executive candidate Theodore J. Sophocleus needed money during the last month of his primary campaign, an old family friend delivered.

Nicholas Andrew, who owns a trailer park in Maryland City and the Starting Gate Lounge on Route 198 in Laurel, contributed $13,000 through his businesses and family members.

The amount is more than half the $25,000 Mr. Sophocleus raised during the final two weeks of August and more than 10 percent of the $121,900 in campaign contributions he has received in the past four years.

Mr. Andrew is a longtime businessman in Anne Arundel County. During the 1950s and 1960s, he operated several restaurants and owned a slot machine distribution business. He was granted a license to operate a commercial bingo hall in Laurel in 1971.

He owns tracts of land in Laurel, some near the proposed Redskins stadium off Brock Bridge Road.

Opponents of Mr. Sophocleus criticized the $13,000 in contributions as extraordinary because they came from a single family. But the contributions, made in the names of several family members and businesses, were within legal limits.

"It certainly should raise a yellow flag that we should peek in there and ask, 'Why'? " said Democratic candidate Larry E. Walker, a county police corporal. "Certainly, it should raise the question, what does the donator expect in return for the donation?"

Democratic candidate Robert Agee said, "When you have that great a percentage from one source, it's got to raise some eyebrows."

H. Erle Schafer, another Democratic candidate, said, "I see it as an issue when you talk about one particular family putting those kinds of dollars into a campaign at the end."

Mr. Sophocleus' response is that Mr. Andrew, whose family has owned restaurants throughout North County, has been a lifelong family friend.

"It's the acquaintance you know, the business people you know that help you raise the money you need for a campaign," said Mr. Sophocleus, a state delegate and former county councilman widely seen as the favorite in Tuesday's primary.

"I have to raise money wherever I can. It's been difficult, as you know, to raise money this campaign."

Mr. Sophocleus' latest campaign finance report, which was filed Sept. 2, contained nine contributions of $2,000 and four $1,000 donations. He has raised $54,000 more than the nearest of his four primary opponents.

His 1994 campaign has collected less than half the contributions he received before the 1990 primary.

Mr. Sophocleus said the Andrew family has supported his previous campaigns. His 1990 campaign reports show businesses controlled by the family contributed at least $7,000.

Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, a nonprofit, nonpartisan political watchdog, said the contributions appear to conform to campaign finance laws. But, she said, voters could be troubled by a large amount coming from one source.

"There might be a public perception question," she said.

Ms. Povich said campaign finance laws actually foster these kinds of problems.

"When we have unlimited expenditures for campaigns, it's going to send candidates chasing after large campaign contributions," she said.

The contributions from the Andrew family came under several names. Mr. Andrew, a resident of Arnold, his wife, Jean Andrew, his son Thomas of Lighthouse Point, Fla., and Thomas' wife, Tina, each gave Mr. Sophocleus $2,000.

Two companies associated with Nicholas Andrew also gave $2,000 donations: M.O.M. Inc., the corporate name of Parkway Village, Mr. Andrew's trailer park; and Brockbridge Road Associates, listed in the county's tax records as the property owner of the trailer park land.

Campaign reports show Mr. Sophocleus also received $1,000 from Andrew Consulting in Golden Beach, Fla., a Miami suburb.

Mr. Sophocleus is not the only candidate who has had to answer questions about his campaign finances.

Last month, $41,361 in debts from Mr. Schafer's 1982 campaign for county executive became an issue. That sum included bills for telephone service, coffee and doughnuts, campaign materials and loans from his supporters.

"I would love the opportunity to pay them off if I could do that," Mr. Schafer said. "You have to remember the campaign is responsible for that, not me personally. When people do that [make loans to a campaign] you advise them that if you lose, it may be a while before they get paid back."

Mr. Schafer said he "legally and morally must pay them back."

In the meantime, he must file annual reports with the state elections board noting the existence of the debts.

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