Return to sender Anne Arundel County: John Gary has amassed a load of money -- and obligations.

November 27, 1997

UNLESS A cataclysmic change occurs in Anne Arundel's political landscape in the next year, County Executive John G. Gary should have little trouble winning a second term. He is a popular administrator. He is also on his way to amassing the largest campaign war chest ever by an Anne Arundel County executive, a trend in evidence in other metropolitan counties as well.

As of the last reporting period, which ended Nov. 3, Mr. Gary's campaign organization had raised $459,200. Next year, his fund-raising efforts will surely break the 1990 record of $475,577 set by his predecessor, Robert R. Neall. Having such an abundant sum to spend certainly bolsters Mr. Gary's position as front-runner and helps frighten off potential challengers. But raising this huge amount has its costs, too. Few contributors to political campaigns give out of altruism. Larry Telford, Mr. Gary's campaign manager, may believe these folks are giving because "they appreciate" his accomplishments, but the rest of us can dispense with that fiction.

Most large contributors give in hopes of getting something -- access to top county officials, appointments to boards and commissions, perhaps contracts to supply the government with goods and services. Not surprisingly, developers, engineers and contractors are among those who have made the largest donations.

The more John Gary raises, the more indebted he will be in his second term to these donors. If it turns out he has no credible opposition in the primary or general elections, he has a number of options.

He could wage an extravagant re-election campaign and spend all of his money.

He could set aside a portion to bankroll other candidates, even if the money was ostensibly given to "appreciate" him.

There is a third choice: Mr. Gary could take the unprecedented action of spending a modest amount on his re-election and return the rest to his contributors.

Such a dramatic move would free him from many of the obligations incurred by accepting large campaign contributions. It would also set an example for other politicians who have come to believe the most important campaign activity is raising great wads of money and then ignoring the consequences.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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