Contributions for Snowden ruled legal $10,000 in services from 2 backers doesn't violate donation limit

Decision pleases alderman

Official of Annapolis board of elections disagrees with finding

September 27, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The Committee to Elect Carl O. Snowden for Mayor was cleared of any wrongdoing yesterday in accepting professional services worth $10,000 from two high-ranking committee members.

Although the Annapolis City Code prohibits "a person" from contributing "any money or thing of value greater than" $2,500 to any candidate for mayor, that limitation does not apply to "the value of a contributed service," according to David M. Funk, a Baltimore lawyer hired by the Annapolis Office of Law to research the question.

Richard E. Israel, chairman of the city board of elections, said the board is "bound to accept the opinion," but he does not "share that conclusion."

"It's one thing spending an unlimited time driving people to the polls, but it's another thing to donate unlimited professional services, such as legal work, for which people are usually paid," Israel said.

He said he will ask the board at its Oct. 21 meeting to recommend that the city council change the law to include limits on professional services.

Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat who has adamantly defended his committee, said he was not surprised by the decision and was pleased that the elections board also found no fault in his committee accepting $315 from such registered tax-exempt organizations as Kunta Kinte Celebrations Inc. and Banneker-Douglas Museum Foundation.

"I have maintained from the very beginning that the thrust of the law was to place a limit on cash contributions and not on in-kind contributions," Snowden said. "This decision vindicates the sterling reputation of Adam Legum and Carol Higgs."

The issue came up after July 1 when Snowden, who has not officially declared his candidacy for mayor, released his campaign finance report to announce that he had raised more than $62,000 in contributions. The election board began an investigation of the contributions in August after questions were raised by The Sun.

The report showed that Alan H. Legum, treasurer of Snowden's committee, wrote two checks totaling $1,200 and donated services from his law firm worth $5,000. The limit for contributions is $2,500.

Committee chairwoman Carol Higgs Gerson donated $5,000 worth of graphics services from her Washington company.

Funk wrote that a "thing of value," is not defined in either the State Election Code or the Annapolis City Code, therefore "the limitation does not apply to these services."

A 1992 opinion rendered by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth L. Nilson, counsel to the State Administrative Board of Election Laws, cautions: " provision of a substantial amount of service on a regular basis to a campaign without charge may be seen as a scheme to evade contribution limitations even if that individual occasionally provides a free service to other groups."

Funk disagreed, saying that Nilson also recognized that "the value of services rendered by an attorney or graphic designer is a function of time," and therefore it is "impossible to reconcile the exemption granted volunteer time" from professional services.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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