Understanding campaign limits Contributions: The final weeks of the 1994 campaign for State House offer a telling look at why Joseph A. De Francis covered contributions to candidate Glendening.

The Political Game

July 16, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

THE STATE prosecutor slammed Joseph A. De Francis last week for giving $12,000 in other people's names to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's campaign effort in 1994.

De Francis, the majority owner of the Pimlico and Laurel racecourses, admits that he sent the money to his grandmother, aunt and uncle -- all residents of Buffalo, N.Y. -- to cover their contributions to Glendening and his running mate, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

He maintains, however, that he did not believe it was illegal, as asserted by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli in the document charging DeFrancis with one misdemeanor count of violating state election law.

But to understand why De Francis would do such a thing -- aside from the good will such a gesture could bring down the road with a new governor -- you have to travel back to the final weeks of the 1994 campaign for the State House.

De Francis, like many other big contributors, was close to "maxing out" -- hitting the $10,000 limit on contributions that can be legally given to all candidates in a four-year election cycle.

He already had backed two losers in the primaries that September. He gave $4,000 to another Democrat, former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, and $2,000 to Republican Helen Delich Bentley, who lost to Ellen R. Sauerbrey. (The Buffalo bunch contributed another $12,000 to Bentley, as well.)

And De Francis had given yet another $3,000 to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who at one point looked as if he were getting in the governor's race.

But after the gubernatorial primary, word supposedly was sent forth from the Glendening camp to some folks affiliated with the tracks and De Francis that "Joe had bet on the wrong horses."

So, with two weeks to go before the general election, De Francis and partner Marty Jacobs threw a bash at Jacobs' Silver Spring home for the Glendening/Townsend Committee.

The fund raiser arrived at a critical time for the Glendening campaign -- in the waning days of the campaign, when it was pressed for cash.

Sauerbrey was gaining ground quickly on Glendening. In fact, he was dropping like a rock in the polls -- something that he and campaign workers denied, right up to the end.

Glendening had fallen short by several hundred-thousand dollars the "The $6 Million Dollar Man" label with which Sauerbrey had branded him.

He needed money for the final television advertising push to finish the slick media campaign that had enabled him to get as far as he had with a statewide electorate that generally had never heard of him.

But money was tight.

Many Democratic high-rollers already were tapped out -- not unlike De Francis -- having hit their legal limits in the tough four-way primary.

Some calls from the Glendening camp went out to them in the final days, suggesting a way they could still help the cause -- by sending tax-deductible contributions to the National Association

for the Advancement of Colored People's nonpartisan Get-Out-The-Vote (G-O-T-V) effort.

Big labor -- particularly the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which housed the Democratic G-O-T-V workers at its Baltimore offices during the final days of the campaign -- was pressed to do more. AFSCME, which also staffed phone banks and provided Election Day workers to the Glendening campaign, already had put tens of thousands of dollars into the G-O-T-V effort.

(A plan to pay union workers $25 "for food" on Election Day was derailed at the last minute, after former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, the state Democratic party chairman, questioned the plan's legality, based on the oft-flouted state law prohibiting "walk-around money" for workers, and put a halt to it.)

And the b'hoys in the city's Democratic organizations were grousing that they hadn't gotten their fair share of money for Election Day from the state party's Campaign '94, which ran the G-O-T-V efforts for all Democrats on the slate and was virtually inseparable from the Glendening campaign.

PTC For instance, in an effort to hold down expenses, the party's so-called "coordinated campaign" decided to print its own ballots to be distributed by local political organizations -- instead of transferring large sums to local Democratic leaders to offset their, uh, printing costs.

(In other words, there was little walk-around money for Election Day workers).

In the end, the coordinated campaign spent an estimated $500,000 on G-O-T-V statewide, mostly in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- the only three jurisdictions Glendening ended up carrying in his win over Sauerbrey by a mere 5,993 votes.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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