Man gave $252,227 in '91-'95 elections Campaign officials, state agencies fail to detect illegal gifts

December 11, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Using a variety of devices to cover his tracks, a now-bankrupt Baltimore businessman poured at least $250,000 into national and state election campaigns during a five-year giving binge that made him one of the largest campaign contributors in Maryland.

Federal and state records show that from 1991 to 1995, Brian H. Davis, his family, his business ventures and his employees gave $252,227 to the Republican and Democratic parties, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and at least 19 other political candidates.

Davis' mother says her son was "buying love." But he also appears to have been breaking the law.

At least $75,000 of the Davis contributions were given in violation of state spending limits or in the names of relatives who had nothing to do with the gifts.

The story of Brian Davis is a primer on how to evade Maryland's election laws, which are tough in theory but toothless in practice.

While Davis gave liberally to national political campaigns, more than $170,000 of his contributions went to Maryland candidates, including $29,000 to Glendening and $57,825 to former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, received $15,000, while $17,500 went to Republican Richard D. Bennett's unsuccessful campaign for attorney general.

In interviews, Davis admitted responsibility for virtually all of the donations The Sun discovered and said there were more that hadn't been found.

The giving spree ended in late 1995, when Davis' Baltimore trucking company collapsed amid accusations that he had perpetrated a massive fraud to obtain bank loans. Davis now admits that some of the money his company received from the banks went directly to political campaigns.

An investigation by The Sun found that Davis:

Routinely concealed his own donations by giving under the names of family members -- a violation of state election law. Similar donations he made in congressional races violate federal law.

Violated Maryland's $10,000 limit on contributions by an individual or company during a single four-year election cycle -- not only in his own name, but also in the names of his companies, his mother, his brother and his wife.

Signed his mother's name to a $2,000 campaign check to Ruppersberger, a possible felony under the state's forgery law.

Made $16,200 in contributions in the name of a company that falsely purported to sell beef from a family ranch in Montana.

These activities took place during a period when Davis was president of Oceanic Ltd., a modest-sized trucking business that was seized by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court a year ago.

Creditors charged that Davis had siphoned off millions of dollars in an "illegal, improper, fraudulent and malicious" scheme to obtain multiple loans using the same collateral.

Shortly after Oceanic collapsed, Davis was ousted as an officer of McCafferty's, a Mount Washington restaurant. The partners accused Davis of forging documents to drain the restaurant's accounts and take out phony loans in its name.

It is all but impossible to arrive at a complete tally of Davis' contributions in state races because the General Assembly has resisted efforts to computerize Maryland's election records. That battle will be refought this winter as part of a broader effort for campaign finance reform.

This lack of modern enforcement tools has helped Davis and others exceed state spending limits with virtual impunity. Maryland has a $10,000 limit on the total an individual can give to state, county or local candidates combined during an election cycle. But without computers, election officials can't track who is giving how much and to whom.

As a result, no government agency detected Davis' activities, which were buried in the paper jungle of Annapolis. Now he is immune from prosecution for most of his violations of state election law because of Maryland's lenient statute of limitations, which wipes the slate clean after two years.

Davis, 40, has not been charged with any crimes. Federal prosecutors have seized his business records, however, and have sent him a letter warning that he is the target of a criminal investigation in connection with the loans obtained by Oceanic.

It is not clear what Davis expected to gain from his political largess. His company wasn't a state contractor and did not appear to have a strong interest in any particular legislation.

The only plum Davis apparently received in return was a paid part-time position on the board of the state's Injured Workers Insurance Fund -- an appointment arranged by retiring state Sen. John A. Pica, whose campaign received $12,080 from Davis.

Davis spent 15 months on the board, to which he was appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and reappointed by Glendening, before he was ousted in March for non-attendance.

Today Davis is a shadow of the man who bought tables at Eunice Kennedy Shriver's charity events, visited the White House and attended parties thrown by Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

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