Gary's funds piling up at record pace Potential rivals from both parties might be scared off

He has raised $380,000

Supporters happy with low taxes, added police officers

Campaign 1998

October 12, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The Bavarian dance troupe was in full whoop. The guys in the horse costume were prancing among the kegs. And everywhere at Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary's Octoberfest fund-raiser last week were sauerkraut and Sauerbrey (gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey).

From the throng at La Fontaine Bleu catering hall in Glen Burnie emerged the party's host, Raymond Streib, a county contractor with a wicker basket full of cash. "Should we count it?" he asked Gary's campaign manager, Larry Telford.

It was a good night for the county's Republican leader, who added about $20,000 to the $360,000 already raised for an election more than a year off in which he has no declared opponent.

Gary is on a pace to raise more than any other candidate for his office -- exceeding Robert R. Neall's $475,577 in 1990. And some observers say his success may frighten off not only Democratic challengers, but also rivals in his own party.

During a time when multimillion-dollar fund-raising practices are being scrutinized on Capitol Hill, a $35-a-head cabbage-and-bratwurst dinner in Anne Arundel County might seem like small schnitzel.

But Monday's fund-raiser provides a glimpse of some of Gary's strongest supporters and sources of funding.

The host of the 500-guest dinner was Streib, Gary's No. 1 financial contributor and president of Development Facilitators Inc., a Severna Park engineering company that designs, inspects and manages construction projects.

Streib, 55, a former chief of traffic engineering for the county, his wife and his company have donated a combined $9,650 to Gary's political fund since 1993, the most recent available campaign finance records show.

Streib's company has won $472,972 worth of contracts with the county over the past two years to inspect sewer construction, manage the replacement of a bridge, design a golf course drainage system and complete other projects, according to county purchasing records.

The fact that a county contractor is contributing to the executive's campaign is not unusual.

An analysis of Gary's campaign contribution records shows that half of his top 12 donors are county contractors or employees.

In addition to Development Facilitators, contributors include Dillon's Bus Service, which donated $4,400 and provides transportation for the county; County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe, who gave $4,000; G & L Associates, which gave $3,950; Reliable Contracting Co., which contributed $3,800; and the John E. Harms Jr. and Associates engineering firm, which contributed $3,000, according to campaign contribution records for 1992 through last year. This year's contributions will be disclosed by the campaign next month.

Eric M. Uslaner, a professor of government at the University of Maryland, College Park, said that in most cases, contributions by government contractors are not illegal or immoral.

"There's an old Texas expression that you dance with the person who brung you," said Uslaner. "If you benefit from the largess of government, then there is at least some expectation that you will respond in kind. A problem would only arise if there was a quid pro quo, an expectation that you wouldn't get a contract unless you made a contribution."

Competitive contracts

An examination by The Sun of the 12 most recent business

agreements between the county and Development Facilitators found that each contract was awarded in competition with other businesses.

In each case, a committee made up of the county's chief administrative officer, public works director, purchasing officer and engineer concluded that Development Facilitators offered a better price or better quality than its competitors, according to county purchasing records.

But Streib has received at least one thing from his relationship with Gary.

In 1995, the executive appointed his old friend to a volunteer panel that advises Gary on which construction projects the county should fund.

As a member of the seven-member Planning Advisory Board, Streib reviews construction budgets that his company sometimes later receives a small portion of through engineering contracts with the county, according to minutes of the board.

For example, Streib voted on April 15, 1995, to recommend a county budget for roads and bridges that included the replacement of a bridge on Franklin Gibson Road near Deale.

On Aug. 9 this year, the county awarded Streib's company a $38,401 contract to manage and inspect that project, according to county records.

In an interview, Streib said his role on the board and his political support of Gary have not boosted his business.

He said a tiny portion of his company's work -- about 1 percent -- is with the county and that the proportion has declined during Gary's administration. Most of Streib's contracts come from the state, other counties and developers, he said.

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