Bereano trial sheds light on political fund raising

November 18, 1994|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Sun Staff Writer

When Paul D. Muldowney decided to run for the state Senate in 1990, he tried to raise money the way many candidates do. He hit up lobbyists in Annapolis.

"One of the things you do is you get a list of registered lobbyists and send them a letter with tickets enclosed and ask them to purchase the tickets to a fund-raiser," he said yesterday, testifying in the mail fraud trial of Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore has put a spotlight on Mr. Bereano -- while illuminating the tangled relationships between lobbyists and state legislators.

Although state laws are designed to shed light on the financial dealings of political candidates and lobbyists, the trial has shown that doesn't always happen. According to testimony, campaign contributions are not always from the people who give them. Mr. Bereano, for example, reimbursed employees who gave money at his request. And candidates do not always reveal who is giving them money.

Mr. Muldowney and another former lawmaker testified that it was common for candidates to seek donations from lobbyists -- the same people who will try to influence their votes once elected.

Former state Del. Diane Kirchenbauer of Montgomery County said, "I certainly did send [Mr. Bereano], as well as other lobbyists, tickets to fund-raising events."

Mr. Bereano came through for both candidates in 1990 with donations ostensibly from his office bookkeeper, Sandra Steed O'Hearn.

Ms. Kirchenbauer received a $300 check from Ms. O'Hearn. On the memo line, it carried the notation: "Bruce Bereano asked me to send."

Mr. Muldowney, a former state delegate from Washington County, received a $250 check from the bookkeeper for fund-raiser tickets.

Both former candidates said they assumed the donations were fromMs. O'Hearn since the checks were drawn on her personal account.

However, Ms. O'Hearn, who no longer works for Mr. Bereano, testified yesterday that the lobbyist reimbursed her for those contributions and others made at his direction before the 1990 election.

Ms. Kirchenbauer reported Ms. O'Hearn's name and her contribution to the state elections board.

Maryland requires candidates to report the names of campaign contributors, the amount of money raised and what the campaign spent.

Mr. Muldowney, however, used an exemption in the law to avoid revealing the bookkeeper's name to the elections board. Candidates did not have to disclose the names of donors who bought fund-raising tickets that cost $50 or less apiece.

Mr. Bereano, the first Annapolis lobbyist to earn $1 million in a year, is charged with defrauding his lobbying clients.

Prosecutors say Mr. Bereano disguised more than $16,000 in contributions by having his employees and relatives make the donations. He reimbursed them from his law firm's coffers and billed clients in the amounts of the contributions.

On the clients' bills, the expenditures were attributed to entertaining legislators, rather than to campaign contributions, prosecutors said.

The prosecution, however, suffered a blow Wednesday when Ms. O'Hearn said she couldn't recall Mr. Bereano telling her to bill clients for the contributions.

But a prosecutor pointed out that Ms. O'Hearn told a different story to a grand jury last year. Stephen S. Zimmermann read aloud an excerpt of her 1993 testimony, in which she acknowledged making the billings at Mr. Bereano's request.

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