De Francis contributions probe widens '94 campaign reports list donations from track owners, families

More than $80,000 given

De Francis accused of donating funds under relatives' names

July 13, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Marina Sarris | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Marina Sarris,State campaign finance reports and Common Cause/MarylandSUN STAFF

The headline on an article yesterday in the Maryland section about campaign contributions by the co-owners of Pimlico and Laurel racetracks, Joseph A. De Francis, Karin Van Dyke and Martin Jacobs, their families and a track employee, incorrectly stated that the probe was widening.

The Sun regrets the error.

The $12,000 in political contributions that three relatives of Joseph A. De Francis sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening is just a small fraction of the money that Pimlico and Laurel racetrack owners and their families threw at Maryland politicians during the 1994 campaign.

Campaign finance reports show that De Francis, two co-owners, their families, a top track official and the racecourses themselves together gave more than $80,000 to candidates in the four-year election cycle that ended in December 1994.


Those participating in this extraordinary display of largess -- to both Democrats and Republicans -- included De Francis' mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and brother-in-law; co-owner Martin Jacobs, his wife and two grown daughters in New York; and the tracks' marketing director, Lois C. Webster.

Nearly a third of that money -- at least $24,000 -- was collected at a Glendening fund-raiser at Jacobs' posh Silver Spring home just two weeks before the 1994 general election.

State law allows for family members to donate money to candidates, provided that the money is actually theirs.

Last week, however, the state prosecutor charged De Francis with making a contribution in a false name after he reimbursed his grandmother, aunt and uncle in Buffalo, N.Y., for the $12,000 they gave to Glendening and running mate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 1994.

The campaign finance reports show that at the time of the contributions, De Francis -- the state's leading proponent of legalizing slot machines at racetracks -- was approaching the $10,000 legal limit on the amount of money an individual can give to all candidates in an election cycle.

Through a spokeswoman, De Francis, Jacobs and co-owner Karin Van Dyke all declined to comment about the other contributions found in a Sun review of campaign finance reports.

Track spokeswoman Ann Taylor said all three were referring calls to De Francis' lawyer, Richard M. Karceski, who did not return reporters' phone calls.

The prevailing wisdom among big-money contributors is that their large sums buy access and influence.

"Donors only give these large contributions to curry favor with elected officials, and let's not pretend anything else is going on," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, a government watchdog group.

State election law limits to $4,000 the amount an individual can give to one political candidate -- or $8,000 to a gubernatorial slate.

But often, contributors find other ways to show their support, such as prevailing upon a relative, friend or employee to make the gift in their stead.

The check of finance reports showed that De Francis and his relatives alone gave at least $45,000 to politicians -- primarily gubernatorial candidates -- and most of it in increments of $4,000.

Van Dyke, De Francis' sister, and her husband, Robert Brent Van Dyke, each contributed $4,000 of that amount.

Jacobs gave $6,000 to candidates, and his wife, Golda, and daughters -- Shoshana and Yonina, both residents of New York City -- contributed a total of $13,000 to candidates for governor.

The De Francis group substantially backed two losers in the 1994 gubernatorial primaries -- Democrat Melvin A. Steinberg and Republican Helen Delich Bentley. But in late October 1994, it held the fund-raiser for Glendening, who at that point was the Democratic nominee.

Not only did De Francis' grandmother, aunt and uncle -- Sara R. Lascola, Marie L. Sanderson and R. C. Sanderson -- give $4,000 each to the Glendening-Townsend campaign in October 1994, but they each gave the same amount to Bentley four months earlier.

Jacobs' daughters also gave money to both Bentley and Glendening -- at about the same time De Francis' relatives gave their money.

Shoshona and Yonina Jacobs each contributed the same amounts -- $3,500 to Bentley and $2,500 to Glendening. Jacobs' wife kicked in another $1,000 to the Glendening campaign at the time of the fund-raiser in October.

"I've always been interested in politics," said Yonina Jacobs, a chef in New York. But she declined to answer further questions about the contributions or her family.

Webster, a close friend of De Francis who until recently was the tracks' marketing director, gave $4,000 each to Steinberg and Bentley. She did not return phone messages.

Campaign contributions

During the 1994 campaign, more than $80,000 in political contributions were made to Maryland candidates by the owners of the Laurel and Pimlico racecourses, their relatives, the tracks' marketing director and the tracks themselves.


Joseph A. De Francis

Melvin A. Steinberg $4,000

Kurt L. Schmoke $3,000

Helen Delich Bentley $2,000

Mary Boergers $250

Martin Jacobs

Kurt L. Schmoke $1,000

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