Homebuilders' 'Kiss of Death'

November 03, 1994

Political endorsements are not always an advantage for a politician.

Though an interest group may promise money, campaign support and member votes to a selected candidate, the negative reaction of the electorate may be even more powerful.

Such an endorsement -- by the group's own admission -- is that bestowed by the Carroll County chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

The builders, who are seen to embody the county's bugaboos of growth and development and a crowded, overburdened environment, say they are backing three candidates for county commissioner.

But only one of these endorsees, Rebecca Orenstein, admits to getting the group's stamp of approval. The five other candidates deny they have been endorsed by the home builders; none says that the endorsement was even offered.

The builders recognize the problem and, bizarre as it sounds, are not announcing the endorsements to the public. Nor will the group say how much money it is committing to the effort.

"We can be perceived with a jaundiced eye by the public," explains an official of the state organization, calling the housing BTC industry politically "precarious." One anti-growth candidate put it more bluntly: "It might be the kiss of death."

No candidate reported any contributions from the group as of Oct. 23, the cutoff date of the last campaign finance reports on file. Any such donations will not be listed until weeks after Tuesday's election.

There's nothing illegal or unethical about this political support. Indeed, numerous groups and industries use front organizations to give to favored candidates without identifying themselves directly. Donations in the waning days of the campaign are also common, to finance a final advertising blitz but also to hide the source of controversial donors.

The Carroll County builders' gesture is likely to backfire, in spite of its prudent precautions. If five candidates disavow receiving their vote of support, these same candidates will be greatly embarrassed if they subsequently report accepting donations from the group. And the one candidate who boldly admits receiving the home builders' help will be under a microscope for any of her votes should she win election. By their disingenuousness, the builders have erected a house of cards.

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