Donations close doors for donors Contributions: De Francis, Waxman discover that efforts by businessmen to aid Glendening can end up with negative results.

The Political Game

September 03, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

CAMPAIGN contributions are said to buy "access," but recent experience in Maryland may leave some business people wondering about its value.

First, racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis was charged with making illegal contributions to Parris N. Glendening's gubernatorial campaign in 1994. De Francis pleaded nolo contendere to those charges, but his interests may be sentenced to hard time: Legislators will look more carefully at bills he backs lest they be accused of voting for the man with deep pockets. And the governor has said he won't consider slots at De Francis' tracks, lest he be accused of the same thing.

Next comes Albert S. Waxman, head of Merit Behavioral Care Corp., who held a fund-raiser recently for Glendening at his Manhattan apartment. Access abounded: The governor of Maryland was on hand and so was state Sen. Larry Young, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on health.

The governor has said he knew nothing of Merit's then-pending bid for a state contract until he was seated in the company's airplane on the way to New York. Young says he knew next to nothing, too.

Young, in Zurich, Switzerland, until just before last week's Democratic Convention in Chicago, said during an interview in Chicago that he learned of the Merit fund-raiser when he was in New York on a private business matter.

"I was having lunch with a Baltimore businessman at the Princeton Club," said the West Baltimore Democrat. "He said the governor of Maryland was going to be there and would I like to come. I said I would as long as it didn't conflict with my plans [of] going to the theater."

No conflict there, as it turned out. The senator met Waxman and other Merit officials.

"He has a wonderful apartment," Young said.

A few days later, back in Baltimore, the senator said a Merit official called him to ask about two minority health care companies in Young's district. Did the senator think they would be good "MBEs" -- minority business enterprises, which often must be listed in a company's proposal for contracts in Maryland?

"I was excited that they would look at them," the senator said.

The two firms are Liberty Medical and Total Health Care, the second of which is in the 1500 block of Division St. Young's Citizens Democratic Action Organization holds its "Town Meetings" there. And the city's newest member of the House of Delegates, Carmena F. Watson -- hand-picked by Young -- is a member of the Total Health Care board of directors.

But all that access had dubious value for all concerned:

Glendening was flying in heavy weather after his Merit party was disclosed and announced he would accept no campaign funds from Waxman.

Merit did not get the Maryland contract it had competed for. This was bad news for Young and his home-turf corporations: No contract for Merit, no work for them.

Waxman announced he would not be sending Glendening any of the money contributed by other businessmen at the party.

This is either contribution excess or access overdose.

Finally, the prospects for Glendening fund-raisers may not be so rosy in the near term. On the other hand, some contributors may see an opportunity: Help now could be so much more memorable.

In Chicago, a politician still commands respect

Baltimore Democrat and sage insider Peter Marudas, pausing to consider wryly the Chicago of machines and bosses and mayors named Daley sighed and said, "It's great to be in a place where a politician still gets the respect he deserves."

Hoyer says hard times for Democrats are cyclical

U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a 5th District Democrat, acknowledged for the record that Democrats "got our heads handed to us in 1994 for a lot of reasons."

The party had been even more self-destructive than usual, he said -- a stark contrast with the unity and good feeling of Democrats last week in Chicago.

What happened two years ago, he said optimistically, was cyclical and certain to be corrected this year:

"Every 40 years we give Congress to the Republicans so they can remind voters why they love Democrats."

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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