Flouting Annapolis' election laws Hefty 'in-kind' gifts to Snowden violate spirit, if not letter, of law.

July 10, 1996

THE ANNAPOLIS mayoral election may be 16 months away, but that doesn't make it too early for a little political controversy. Alderman Carl O. Snowden's campaign organization raised some eyebrows in its latest report. It seems as though his campaign treasurer and campaign chairwoman may have exceeded the city's limit on individual contributions.

Alan H. Legum, treasurer for the Committee to Elect Carl O. Snowden Mayor, wrote two checks and donated services from his law firm for a total of $6,200 in contributions. The city's contribution limit is $2,500. Campaign Chairwoman Carol Higgs Gerson, through her Washington company, reported providing $5,000 in graphics services.

Mr. Snowden believes the elections law does not limit in-kind contributions. The alderman questions why such a fuss is being raised over these matters. Yet given the law's language that restricts donors to $2,500 in money and "things of value" to mayoral candidates, it sure looks like Mr. Legum and Ms. Gerson have been too generous in their political giving.

There is some dispute whether the services Mr. Legum donated are worth the $5,000 ascribed to them. The same question may be raised of the value of the services that Ms. Gerson rendered. That's fine, but to argue no legal limits exist on in-kind services, as Mr. Snowden did, is to open a loophole in Annapolis' election law as wide as the Chesapeake Bay between Sandy Point and Kent Island.

By restricting themselves to in-kind contributions, donors could easily circumvent the purpose of the campaign law. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on printing brochures, a donor could provide them as "in-kind services." The same is true for renting a campaign headquarters or producing a commercial. In-kind contributions were meant to cover incidental activities, such as the use of a supporter's family room for a neighborhood coffee klatch or donation of a lunch for the campaign staff. When businesses donate valuable services, they might as well be donating cash.

Thanks to public disclosure, voters are aware of these in-kind donations to Mr. Snowden's campaign coffers and can make their own assessment of their importance in the mayoral race, nearly a year and a half away.

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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