The dash for campaign cash Glendening's quest: Rush to snare business donations puts governor in ethical bind.

August 10, 1996

THERE'S NO mystery to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's current thrust in his drive to win re-election two years hence: He wants to lock up all big campaign donations far in advance of 1998, thus denying potential opponents the funds needed to mount a serious challenge. But the governor's zeal has raised serious ethical concerns.

On July 23, the governor flew to New York on a corporate jet for a big-bucks fund-raiser at the home of Albert S. Waxman, the CEO of a corporation seeking state work. Not until Mr. Glendening was airborne was he informed of this situation, his aides claim. He decided to renounce all donations from the firm, Merit Behavioral Care, its CEO and other employees, and reimburse Merit for all expenses. But he apparently will keep the rest of the money raised at the event, even though all those donations are now tainted.

Common Cause was quick to note that such a fund-raiser "creates the appearance of a conflict of interest." Indeed it does. What better way to gain subtle leverage and influence in the awarding of a $15 million state contract than to raise $60,000 for the governor?

That Mr. Glendening's staff was unaware of this potential conflict of interest is hard to swallow. Since last December, it has been known that Maryland would be seeking a new mental health services contract this year. Initial bids were due July 1. That timetable meant the matter would reach the Board of Public Works, presided over by the governor, in the fall.

This information was well known in Annapolis. That being the case, why did Mr. Glendening agree to let Merit's CEO hold this dubious fund-raiser? Why did he use a corporate plane? This kind of behavior sends all the wrong messages.

Now the governor is in a bind. Will he pass the word to those considering the mental-health contract bids that they should favor Merit? Or will he, to avoid embarrassment, indicate that Merit's bid -- regardless of its quality -- should not gain favor?

When this issue comes before the board, can he in good conscience cast a dispassionate vote? He may have to abstain from any participation in awarding a state contract with a potential total value of $75 million.

Mr. Glendening has every right to raise funds for his re-election. But when he allows companies and business leaders who are currently seeking major state contracts to hold fund-raisers for him, he goes too far.

Pub Date: 8/10/96

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