Politicians giving back 'tainted' gifts Campaign donations came from ex-official of trucking company

'We don't want any of this'

Brian H. Davis gave to coffers of governor, other elected officials

December 12, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and several other leading Maryland politicians moved quickly yesterday to disassociate themselves from former trucking executive Brian H. Davis and the thousands of dollars in "tainted" money he pumped into their political campaigns.

The governor, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, former GOP attorney general candidate Richard D. Bennett and three state legislators said they would move to divest themselves of the Davis contributions as soon as possible.

They were reacting to an article in The Sun yesterday that showed how Davis, the former president of Oceanic Ltd. Inc. in Baltimore, made more than $250,000 in political contributions from 1991 to 1995.

At least $75,000 of the contributions apparently were illegal, including some Davis made in the names of relatives without their permission. He has also said that some of the money he donated came from loans to the now-bankrupt Oceanic. The trucking company's loans are the focus of a federal investigation.

Yesterday, many recipients of Davis' largess said they would give back the contributions without waiting to determine which were legal.

"We don't want any of this type of money and we don't need this type of money," said Glendening, whose campaign received at least $25,000 in addition to $4,000 it returned earlier.

"I don't want tainted money from anybody," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who received a relatively modest $800 from Oceanic.

Advocates for campaign finance reform said the Davis case, coming on the heels of other fund-raising scandals, would add to the impetus for change.

"Brian Davis is a poster child for campaign finance reform," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a public-interest watchdog group.

Meanwhile, politicians who did not get money from Davis were turning up the heat on those who did.

"It certainly calls for an investigation," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor in 1998, who said she didn't receive money from Davis because "I wasn't part of the 'good old boy' establishment."

Stephen Montanarelli, the state prosecutor, said he is not permitted to say whether he is opening an investigation of a particular person, but he hinted at his interest.

"I can initiate an investigation on my own. I do not have to wait until someone complains to me," he said.

Bennett, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office in 1998, said that his 1994 campaign committee is $17,000 in debt but that he would borrow more to pay back the $17,500 given him by Davis.

He and others, however, were finding that returning the money posed some tricky questions.

Typically, a campaign would refuse or return a contribution by sending a check back to the giver. But in this case, some of the ostensible givers say they didn't contribute. And because of the possibility that Oceanic money fueled the giving, candidates were hesitant to write out a check to Davis.

"I certainly would not want to do anything that would reward this kind of an individual by enriching him," Taylor said.

Taylor is the prime mover behind a package of campaign finance reform bills that are expected to receive bipartisan support in the House of Delegates. The proposals include a measure to computerize state election records so that campaign spending infractions would be easier to detect.

In Taylor's case, because the contribution came from Oceanic, the question of who should get the money appears relatively clear-cut. Howard A. Rubenstein, the bankruptcy trustee, said the money should go to him for disbursement to creditors.

Jack Schwartz, chief counsel in the state attorney general's office, said that would be appropriate. But he said the law gives no clear guidance on who should get the other returned donations.

Ruppersberger's solution was to send Rubenstein a letter listing the $15,000 in Davis donations he received and inviting the trustee to make a claim.

Retiring state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, said he would probably give whatever remains in his campaign fund to charity.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he didn't know how he'd do it, but that he would divest himself of all the money he received from Davis.

Former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the largest recipient of contributions from Davis with at least $57,825, could not be reached for comment.

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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