Governor's fund-raiser to exceed precedent His biggest supporters each are requested to arrange $20,000 gift

September 26, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

Amid continuing criticism of his nonstop campaign fund-raising, Gov. Parris N. Glendening will preside Monday night over a precedent-setting gala for which key supporters have been asked to produce $20,000 each in contributions.

Dozens of packets containing 20 $1,000 tickets apiece have been distributed to business people, lobbyists and other potential Glendening supporters across the state, according to campaign aides and people who have received them.

The hope is that "key past contributors will invite friends or bring people to introduce to Parris," said Robin O. Oegerle, the Glendening campaign treasurer.

In the past, according to lobbyists and business people who have handled ticket sales for a variety of political fund-raisers over the years, the most loyal supporters of a candidate might have agreed to "move" 10 tickets, usually in the $100-to-$250 range.

Asking an individual to arrange $20,000 in contributions for a single event is without precedent in Maryland, they said. No single contributor could legally buy all 20 tickets because the contribution limit to a gubernatorial team is $8,000 in any four-year election cycle.

Glendening spent a record $5.2 million in his 1994 race for governor, and he appears to have a much higher target for 1998, though the campaign has declined to say what it is.

In all, hundreds of supporters have been invited to Monday's event. Using a railroading theme, the Glendening & Townsend EXPRESS is raising money for the 1998 re-election effort of the governor and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Oegerle would not say how much the campaign hopes to raise in the effort.

The campaign is throwing its party at a time when Glendening has come under sharp criticism from business people, fellow Democrats -- some of whom would like to be governor -- and a public interest group, all of them unhappy with his approach to fund raising.

Douglas M. Duncan, the Montgomery County executive, has said the governor's continuous efforts create an appearance that the state is "up for sale."

"The message is that to be a business partner with the state of Maryland, you have to raise big money," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, the government watchdog group.

Povich contends that the rising level of campaign contributions expected in Maryland could become an economic-development liability. "If businesses think they have to fork over big campaign contributions to be a player in Maryland, they will be reluctant to come in," she said.

A spokeswoman for Glendening said such talk is outrageous. "I guarantee you, the governor has no clue about any connection between someone who is bidding on a contract and a contribution to his campaign. He's not involved in the procurement process," said Andrea Leahy, his legal counsel.

Glendening's pursuit of campaign money is regarded by politicians in both parties as pre-emptive -- an incumbent's attempt to dry up funds otherwise available for a Democratic challenger, as well as for the Republicans. A big campaign bank balance can make an opponent think twice. Maryland GOP officials have said they would recommend the same strategy to a Republican.

Oegerle said she had detected no reluctance to support the event, which she characterized as routine, the big fund-raiser for this year. It is similar, she said, to ones Glendening has held at the Baltimore Convention Center and the Walters Art Gallery.

Both of those were $500 events. This time, the price has doubled.

Glendening has collected $1,000 a ticket for smaller, private events this year, but Monday's affair is the first large, public effort in Maryland politics featuring a $1,000 ticket. It admits one to an early gathering with the governor, which will spill into an even larger event for which tickets are $125.

Union groups are likely to be well represented. Ernest R. Grecco of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council, AFL-CIO, and Karl K. Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said they were buying one $1,000 ticket each.

"There's no serious likelihood we'd be interested in having anyone else for governor," said Pence. "We took the money out of our political action committee fund and I'm going to attend. We think he's been very good for education."

Unlike his predecessors in the governor's office, Glendening has in effect served as his own chief fund-raiser. He has regularly solicited business people in person or by telephone to hold smaller $1,000-a-ticket events for him, often in their homes.

Veterans of the political fund-raising wars in Maryland can think of no other governor who was so personally involved -- though certainly their close friends and allies did the work in their names.

Glendening has said the need to raise money in politics is a fact of life. His press secretary had no comment for this article, referring questions to Oegerle.

The governor's opponents, Democrat and Republican, are raising money, too.

Glendening's Republican opponent in 1994, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, has been critical of the governor's efforts. "If money can buy the election, he'll buy it," she said.

Sauerbrey's observation came at a $100-a-plate dinner in Frederick for her, for which the sponsor said 70 tickets were sold. She said she has not decided yet whether to run her campaign on public funds, as she did in 1994, or to compete for dollars with Glendening.

In the 1994 race, which she lost by 5,993 votes, Sauerbrey was outspent 5-to-1 by Glendening. Candidates who take public funds agree to abide by spending limits.

Sauerbrey said she still might take the public money, but she suggested that is not her preference.

"I'm realistic enough to think you can't win an election with restrictions on how much you can spend and the other guy has unlimited money," she said.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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