Donations in election increase 14 from Maryland gave $100,000 or more in 1996 campaign

State reflects U.S. trend

Md. is 10th in nation, with $3.1 million given to Democrats

March 09, 1997|By Paul West | Paul West,Federal Election Commission.SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON SUN STAFF RESEARCHER ROBERT GEE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Four years ago, there was a single $100,000 political donor in the entire state of Maryland. But in the 1996 campaign, at least 14 heavy hitters cracked that barrier, according to a Sun analysis of federal campaign records.

The explosion of big-money giving from Maryland was a reflection of a broader trend. Nationally, the total contributed by wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions tripled between 1992 and 1996, the same as it did statewide.

Around the country, Republicans raised the most money. But most of Maryland's biggest donors were Democrats, reflecting the state's political leanings and the aggressive push for large contributions led by President Clinton himself.

According to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group that examined contributions from big Democratic givers, Maryland ranked 10th nationally, with nearly $3.1 million in donations.

For months, Democratic fund-raising practices have received intense scrutiny, and the party has had to return some $3 million in illegal or questionable contributions. A team of 25 FBI agents has been assigned to the case, and the Senate voted last week to conduct its own investigation.

Most of the attention has focused on illegal donations and on allegations that the Chinese government may have tried to influence the election.

But the money that was returned represented only a tiny portion of the amount raised in the campaign. Most of the $262 million collected by the two parties in so-called "soft money" contributions, which are not subject to any limits, has so far received little attention.

Nevertheless, the White House has become sensitive to the perception that big money in general is corrupting. As a result, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has announced it will no longer accept more than $100,000 annually from any one donor.

In Maryland, many of the $100,000 donors in 1996 were newcomers to the game of high-dollar giving. Many were cultivated personally by Clinton. Most have ties to the administration, have benefited from its actions or have a direct interest in decisions made by the federal government. Clinton maintained Friday, however, that there is no proof that any White House policy or action was ever made "solely" to reward a generous contributor.

Past contributions

Only a few of Maryland's biggest donors had been big contributors in the past. These included the International Machinists union, based in Upper Marlboro, which gave the Democrats $272,500, an increase of $52,500 over 1992.

Lockheed Martin, the Bethesda-based defense contractor, gave $119,340 in the 1996 campaign, most of it to Republicans. That figure is roughly the combined amount that the company's two predecessors -- Martin Marietta and Lockheed -- gave in 1992.

Raymond F. Schoenke of Bethesda, a former Washington Redskin and a longtime Democratic donor, gave $127,800, up from $70,250 in 1992.

Most prominent on the state's list of heavy hitters were three health care companies, including Dr. Robert N. Elkins and his Integrated Health Services Inc. of Owings Mills, which ranked 13th among big Democratic donors nationwide, with $579,750 in the 1996 election cycle.

Access to power

Stewart Bainum Jr., chief executive of Manor Care Inc., a Silver Spring-based nursing home chain, was more candid than most in explaining why he and others were so eager to be major players in a system where money clearly buys access to power.

"We're business people, and we want to be listened to," says Bainum, who raised his level of giving from $26,000 in 1992 to $176,790 last year.

Those figures don't include $4,000 that Bainum contributed in 1992 and 1993 in the name of his son, Branford, who was not yet 2 at the time. Bainum recently agreed to pay a $4,000 fine for violating a federal law that bars children from contributing to campaigns unless they do so "knowingly and voluntarily."

Among the most striking developments was the huge leap in giving made by Marylanders who had put relatively little money into national politics four years earlier.

Angelos moves up

For some, such as the Orioles' principal owner, Peter G. Angelos, already a major force on the local and state political level, it was the chance to compete in the big leagues, where the ante is considerably higher. The Baltimore lawyer gave $500 in 1992 (to a Democratic congressional candidate). In 1996, he dropped $171,000 into Democratic coffers, 10 times the amount he gave over the past four years to state political candidates.

Trial lawyers such as Angelos were the leading big-money donors to Clinton and the Democrats nationally, with $8 million in donations in 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In his first term, Clinton switched positions and sided with the trial lawyers by vetoing a measure that would have made it harder for groups of investors to sue corporations.

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