In a fund-raising campaign that tested the reach of election laws, Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray collected $14,300 to bankroll his bid to become second vice president of the National Association of Counties, a private lobbying group.
To pay for that campaign, Gray sought $1,000 contributions from about 50 corporations inside and outside Howard County -- assuring each that the contribution would not be disclosed on election reports.
Among the donors for his campaign for the National Association of Counties (NACo) was Comcast Cablevision, Howard's largest cable provider. It is directly regulated by the County Council and gave Gray $3,000.
Since The Sun first reported on Gray's fund-raising actions in July, he has defended them, saying he was only following advice from the state Attorney General's office and Howard's Office of Law. He also refused to release a complete list of contributors.
The Ethics Commission investigated the matter and in October strongly urged Gray to publicly detail the finances of his campaign -- even though neither state nor local law is clear on the subject of campaigns to lead such private groups as NACo.
Gray complied with the suggestion yesterday, submitting to Howard's Office of Law a list of 11 contributors. He also listed $15,511 in expenses, including hotels, airfare and campaign materials.
"I would hope that it is [over]," Gray said yesterday. "In order to put the controversy to rest, I will indicate the sources of income."
The sources include:
$3,700 from Variable Annuity Life Insurance Co. in Houston, Texas. It is a provider of deferred compensation plans for counties. Gray said he sits on a committee studying such plans for NACo.
$3,000 from Comcast, provider of cable to 52,000 subscribers in Howard. Gray voted on a new cable rate schedule shortly after receiving the first check for $1,000.
$1,000 from NationsBank, which has several branches in Howard.
$1,000 from the Ryland Group, based in Columbia and one of the nation's largest home builders.
$1,000 from First National Bank of Maryland, which has several branches in Howard.
Gray also received $1,000 checks from John David Davenport, an Oklahoma City businessman, Chris Gallant of Glen Burnie, an owner of Roy Rogers restaurants, and J. P. Grant, whom Gray described as a golfing companion.
Gray, who in July said he hoped for $35,000 in contributions, said he largely stopped raising money after The Sun reported he had sent out 50 letters asking corporations for $1,000 contributions.
"After the controversy, I didn't really follow up with phone calls," Gray said. "I sort of dropped the whole thing."
In addition, he said political opponents distributed copies of articles about the fund-raising campaign at the NACo convention in Houston. There were also rumors -- unfounded -- that Gray would be indicted when he returned from the convention, he said.
He lost the election -- by 50 votes out of more than 4,000 -- to Richard Cecil, a Republican county commissioner in New Castle County, Del. Ordinarily, second vice presidents of NACo ascend to the presidency in three years, but Cecil later lost his re-election bid for county commissioner.
That means two leadership positions will be open -- both the first and second vice presidencies -- at the NACo convention in Baltimore this summer. Gray has not ruled out another run.
Pub Date: 12/24/96