Governor's raising of funds is faulted GOP critics blame Glendening campaign in De Francis case

July 11, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

Republican critics of Gov. Parris N. Glendening charged yesterday that his campaign's aggressive fund raising in 1994 was to blame for allegedly illegal contributions from the owner of Pimlico and Laurel racetracks.

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP candidate Glendening narrowly defeated that year, predicted the charges against racing executive Joseph A. De Francis might be only "the tip of the iceberg" of questionable contributions to the campaign.

"In the last election, we saw a candidate making unprecedented demands on the business community and anyone who could be shaken down for funds," said Sauerbrey, the overwhelming favorite for her party's nomination to challenge Glendening again in 1998.

Meanwhile, the governor reiterated that he was shocked and outraged by allegations that De Francis funneled $12,000 in contributions to the Glendening campaign by soliciting contributions from three relatives in Buffalo, N.Y., and then reimbursing them.

Glendening said such activity violated his principles and that there was no way he could have detected such a pattern of contributions at the time. The governor also restated his position that he will oppose efforts to legalize slot machines at Maryland racecourses unless he sees conclusive proof that they are being hurt by slots now operating at Delaware tracks. De Francis has been a leading proponent of allowing the machines at tracks here.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli charged De Francis Tuesday with a single misdemeanor of making political contributions under false names.

According to the charging documents, the majority owner of Laurel and Pimlico wrote three checks, worth $4,000 each, to compensate his aunt, uncle and grandmother for contributions they made to the Glendening campaign.

The legal limit for campaign contributions by an individual to the ticket of Glendening and running-mate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was $8,000.

De Francis has said that he does not dispute the facts of the case, acknowledging he made the reimbursement. But he has said he does not believe he violated the law.

Law enforcement officials confirmed yesterday that information about the contributions initially came as a tip to federal investigators, who fully investigated the details before turning the case over to Montanarelli.

In reviewing information given them, federal investigators discovered the alleged violation of state election law but could find no wrongdoing that would have given them reason to open a federal case against De Francis, sources said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat who has criticized Glendening in the past, said it was "too early to tell" how serious the matter might turn out to be.

"I know Mr. De Francis, and I tend to believe he made a mistake. And I believe a judge would be relatively lenient," Miller said, adding that there was no apparent effort by De Francis to disguise the transaction.

"By writing a check to his relatives, he left a paper trail. It was just a huge paper trail," Miller said.

But Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican and House minority leader, moved quickly to exploit a political opening.

"The root cause is Glendening's push for money and his pushing too hard on some of the people who are vulnerable, some of the people who are state contractors," Kittleman said.

Bruce L. Marcus, a spokesman for Glendening's political committee, dismissed the charge as "political rhetoric."

"The campaign finance reports clearly indicate that Mr. De Francis supported Helen Bentley, Mrs. Sauerbrey's Republican challenger, with contributions in the early days of the 1994 campaign. It is unconscionable that these reckless charges can be made by these members of the Republican Party," Marcus said.

Campaign records do show that Helen Delich Bentley, who lost to Sauerbrey in the Republican primary, also received contributions from De Francis' relatives.

Asked whether his criticism also applied to the Republican, Kittleman said, "Helen Bentley was a pretty good fund-raiser. She pushed pretty hard for money, too."

Legislators were split on whether the case would have much effect on the issue of allowing slot machines at state racetracks -- an issue with which De Francis is closely associated.

Miller said he thought the matter would be decided on the merits when it comes up before the General Assembly again next year.

"The issue of gambling and racetracks is bigger than one person, and it needs to be on the front burner regardless of what happens in Mr. De Francis' case," said Miller, who said he supports slots at the tracks only if the bulk of the revenue goes to the state.

But Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Washington County Democrat who opposes slots at the tracks, predicted that the matter could have an impact if De Francis is convicted.

"It's an issue where legislators are nervous already, so this only increases the anxiety," Poole said.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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