House race turns nasty over phone calls HARFORD COUNTY ELECTIONS 1994

October 23, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A nasty confrontation between two candidates running for a House of Delegates seat in Harford County -- complete with profanities and an alleged threat of a lawsuit -- has led to a request for a state investigation into a series of phone calls to voters.

Republican Nancy Jacobs of Edgewood, an Annapolis lobbyist for a conservative women's group, this week asked Gene M. Raynor, state election board administrator, to determine if the calls violated election laws. She said the calls misrepresented her views on abortion and that they may violate Maryland's ban against anonymous campaign advertising or literature.

Mrs. Jacobs, one of six candidates and the top Republican vote -getter in the primary election in District 34, is offering a $1,000 reward for information that would identify the callers. She said the callers solicit votes for two Democratic, pro-abortion rights opponents, incumbent Mary Louise Preis and B. Daniel Riley. District 34 includes three House seats.

Mr. Raynor said the phone calls may be "misleading" if the allegations are true. "It sounds like someone is playing some dirty tricks."

He said he had referred Mrs. Jacobs' complaint to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who usually investigates election-law violations.

"Of course, we will look into it," Mr. Montanarelli said. He did not recall ever receiving a complaint about phone calls violating the ban against anonymous campaign material.

Maryland law requires an "authority line" on campaign material to guard against libel and slander. The constitutionality of such laws is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which is to hear a challenge to Ohio's ban on anonymous campaign material this month.

Mr. Montanarelli could not say how long it would take to respond to Mrs. Jacobs' complaint, adding that such cases are difficult to prove.

Mrs. Jacobs said she never has tried to hide her position against abortion, but the callers do not mention that she would not oppose it in cases of rape, incest and for the protection of a mother's life.

"If they are going to say who I am, get it right," Mrs. Jacobs said.

She and Tom McLaughlin, an attorney, visited Mr. Riley's Edgewood home late the night of Oct. 14 to discuss the calls. Mr. Riley said he ordered them off his property after they accused him of being behind the calls -- which he denied -- and threatened to sue him.

"We left Mr. Riley's property when he became violent, profane and physically intimidating," Mr. McLaughlin said.

Mr. Riley, a middle school teacher and environmental activist, acknowledged that he became hostile and used profanities. "If someone threatens me, then the redneck in me is going to come out," he said, adding that he will file a grievance against Mr. McLaughlin for his "intimidation and bully tactics."

"I think they are behaving like whiners," Mr. Riley said.

Mrs. Preis of Bel Air also denied knowledge of the phone calls. She said Mrs. Jacobs -- who she said has taken hard-line positions on abortion, birth control and other issues -- is overreacting.

"If you can't stand the heat, you can't be in the kitchen," she said.

Mrs. Jacobs denied that she accused the two Democrats of being involved with the calls.

She said supporters from throughout the district alerted her to the calls. The district includes Aberdeen, Edgewood, Bel Air and Havre de Grace and the heavily populated Interstate 95 and Route 24 corridors.

She said the callers identified themselves in different ways to different voters.

Members of a small group of Harford Democrats, including teachers and abortion-rights advocates, said they are trying to inform voters about Mrs. Jacobs' "extreme" views. But they said they had nothing to do with the calls.

"This is a Republican who we consider to be a member of the radical right," said Chris Neff, an attorney. She said the nationwide organization Mrs. Jacobs represents in Annapolis, Concerned Women for America, has said it wants "Godly leaders to be raised up to run our government."

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