Contribution to Snowden is questioned Campaign donation by committee official may exceed legal limit

Election board may review

$6,200 gift of cash and in-kind services at center of dispute

July 07, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

One of the top officials in Alderman Carl O. Snowden's emerging campaign for mayor may have violated Annapolis city election laws by contributing more than $6,000 in money and services.

Alan H. Legum, treasurer of the Committee to Elect Carl O. Snowden Mayor, surpassed a $2,500 contribution limit when he wrote two checks and donated services from his law firm for a total of $6,200 in contributions, according to campaign financing reports released last week.

As treasurer, Legum is responsible for monitoring the contributions.

"This certainly raises questions that need to be answered," said Richard E. Israel, chairman of the Annapolis election board. "This sounds like something the election board will want to review in our next meeting."

Legum, who signed the report filed with the city law office, said he did not know who placed a value of $5,000 on his services. He said a mistake may have been made and that he might file an amendment to the report this week to correct the problem.

Snowden, meanwhile, denied wrongdoing and said the campaign financing law, which he helped write, is being misinterpreted.

He said the records of previous mayoral campaigns will show "that many far exceeded that limit."

"If this was correct then, then why is it incorrect now?" asked Snowden, who has not formally announced his candidacy for mayor.

Incumbent Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins' campaign finance reports from 1993 to 1996, the only ones immediately available, show no in-kind contributions greater than $1,000.

Israel also said he does not remember anyone raising questions about such contributions in the past two elections he oversaw.

Snowden said the limits do not apply to in-kind contributions, which he said "are unlimited."

"Having been the author of an election reform bill, I don't believe the intent of that limit was to include in-kind contributions," he said. "The whole idea of campaign reform is to put a cap on cash contributions."

But the 1994 city election code does not clearly limit only the cash contributions. It states that "a person" shall not contribute "any money or thing of value" greater than $2,500 to any candidate for mayor or $1,000 to aldermen.

The law defines "a person" as an individual, association, unincorporated association, corporation or any other entity.

And, according to Israel, "a thing of value" could be interpreted as in-kind contributions or services. The only exceptions to those limits are contributions by candidates to their own campaign.

Snowden, for example, could make unlimited contributions to himself. The report, for the period from Sept. 15 to June 30, shows that his consulting business contributed $2,000 worth of office space to his campaign.

At the same time, his campaign committee valued the staff support, legal services and meeting space donated by Legum's firm at $5,000. This amount does not include checks from Legum to the campaign fund for an additional $1,000 Sept. 15 and $200 June 18.

The committee also placed a value of $5,000 on graphics services contributed by committee Chairwoman Carol Higgs Gerson and her Washington company, Carol Gerson Design.

The report does not state clearly whether the entire amount was donated by Gerson, by her company or both. Gerson could not be reached for comment.

While Snowden argued that in-kind contributions from his campaign chairman and treasurer cannot be constrained, Israel disagreed. And because the campaign committee placed a monetary value on the work, it distinguishes the services from volunteer work, which is unlimited, Israel said.

"If Carl Snowden believes we are interpreting the law wrong, then we will be glad to consider his arguments," Israel said. "But, on the face of it, there are some questions that need to be answered in his report, which we expect to review."

Pub date: 7/07/96

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