Campaign funds held long after office Hutchinson among many still distributing past contributions

January 25, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is one of Maryland's leaders in political fund-raising with a cool half-million in the bank -- but guess who else is flush with campaign cash?

Donald P. Hutchinson.

That's right. The man who left that same county executive's job more than 11 years ago boasts a campaign fund of just over $200,000 -- more than most state legislators and county executives have on hand.

Like Hutchinson, some Maryland politicians have retained five-figure campaign funds long after leaving office. Under a little-noticed provision of state campaign financing regulations, they use the money legally to back candidates, fund charities and help state colleges.

Most of those with thousands in savings and investment accounts, including former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, say they have no plans to run again. But they're reluctant to take that last step and liquidate. As Hutchinson and other former officials say about the possibility of running again, "You never close the door."

In Maryland, you don't have to.

State law restricts how such money can be spent, but not how long it can be kept. And no one knows exactly how many former officials still have money because their campaign finance reports aren't segregated by the Maryland State Administrative Board of Election Laws.

Charity is one legal way to dispose of such funds, state election officials say. The money also can go to other candidates, the candidate's own political party, local public schools, public or private colleges, nonprofit groups. Or it can be returned to donors.

But other uses can be tempting.

Former Baltimore County Councilman Gary Huddles used about $50,000 in leftover campaign funds to cover stock market losses in 1987. He paid it back and was found innocent in 1991 of any criminal wrongdoing.

Some think tighter controls are needed on the ex-officials' campaign funds. "I tend to doubt that money is still serving the stated purpose," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

She says a two-year time limit on using leftover campaign funds would be long enough. "When a former elected official accumulates money and tends to view that money as his or her own, that's a problem. That's just plain wrong."

But politicians often hang on to the money -- just in case.

Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, says supporters have asked him to re-enter politics. "Three years ago, I was asked, when everybody thought [Lt. Gov. Melvin A.] Steinberg's campaign was disappearing. It's nice to know that money's there."

Hutchinson had about $400,000 after aborting a run for the U.S. Senate in 1986, but he has spent some of that, giving small gifts to the Baltimore Zoo and various nonprofit groups, as well as to other political campaigns. One big donation: $10,000 in 1990 to help niece Leslie Hutchinson in her first run for public office.

Former Anne Arundel County Executive James O. Lighthizer says he isn't likely to run for office with his remaining $63,670. But he adds, "I like to stay in the game."

Schaefer, 76, has $36,438.50 in his campaign fund and keeps it there "in case I do decide to run again." Aside from occasional, small donations to other candidates, he says he'll probably donate the money to his William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund.

He started that private foundation with other leftover campaign money after the 1979 Baltimore mayoral campaign. It donates about $25,000 annually for civic projects and aid to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

Former state Del. Louis P. Morseberger of Catonsville says he split his $10,683.67 between local public schools and Catonsville Community College's foundation.

Sometimes such charitable donations are made posthumously.

The $67,535.47 in campaign funds left when Sen. John A. Cade of Anne Arundel County died in 1996, for example, was given last month to several Maryland schools, says Earl G. Walter, his treasurer. St. Johns College got $7,000, the University of Maryland Foundation was given $10,000 and Anne Arundel Community College got about $50,000.

About $10,000 left by the late E. Farrell Maddox, a former Essex delegate, went to Essex Community College, state reports say.

Among those with leftover funds are former Baltimore County Councilman William R. Evans, who has $35,320; and former Baltimore County state Dels. Kenneth H. Masters, who has $14,430, and Lawrence A. LaMotte, $8,000.

A review of campaign finance reports filed in November also reveals leftover debts.

Former Del. Timothy F. Maloney of Prince George's County, for example, says he disliked raising money, so he lent money to his campaign. Now he has $557.90 in his campaign account, and $58,415 in unpaid loans from himself.

Others include former Baltimore Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, former Baltimore Mayor Clarence "Du" Burns and former Baltimore County Councilman Melvin G. Mintz.

Then there's Huddles.

He still owes a $6,300 campaign debt for public relations work from 1982, state records show. That debt requires him to file an annual finance report, but he hasn't done so for four years, which means he also owes the election board $1,000 in late fees, officials say.

Huddles is serving a two-year federal prison term in North Carolina for misusing $840,000 that he borrowed from a client who was a drug dealer. He did not reply to a certified letter asking about his late reports.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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