Schrader business soliciting criticized 2 Md. lawmakers say gifts have appearance of conflict of interest

September 05, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Two influential state legislators criticized Howard County Republican Dennis R. Schrader yesterday for soliciting funds for his county executive campaign from contractors who did business with him at the University of Maryland Medical System.

"There's a clear appearance of a conflict of interest," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and holds the House seat on the medical system board.

As vice president of the medical system, Schrader approves most of its construction and renovation projects. In his campaign for the Republican nomination for executive, Schrader has accepted $23,000 in campaign contributions from at least 30 contractors with whom he has done business in his medical system role.

"Other contractors that attempt to do business with the hospital will feel that they have lost this opportunity because they have not contributed to Mr. Schrader's campaign," said Rawlings, whose party hopes to claim the Howard executive's seat in November.

Schrader has said he asked only people he knew well for contributions, taking care to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

"Going to people you know [for contributions] is one thing," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Allegany County. "Going to people whose financial well-being you have control over is something else entirely."

Taylor said he holds the medical system in high regard, but he took issue with Schrader's argument that contributions to his campaign are not gifts.

"That's a little bit disingenuous," said Taylor, who then quoted Schrader's comments in yesterday's Sun: " 'It doesn't benefit me personally at all'? That's absurd."

Medical System President Morton I. Rapoport defended Schrader yesterday, calling his fund raising "appropriate" and saying Schrader has complied with medical system policies calling for full disclosure of such activities. Rapoport said he has not asked, advised or ordered Schrader to stop soliciting from contractors.

In a memo to his board yesterday, Rapoport wrote, "We have no evidence that any contractor or vendor has received business from the medical system, nor has any been denied business, as a result of contributions to Dennis' campaign. We will evaluate whether we need to develop any further policies to avoid even the perception of any conflict of interest."

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and who also sits on the medical system board, said she did not consider campaign contributions to be gratuities and called Schrader a "high-class person." But she said it would have been "wiser" to avoid soliciting from medical center contractors.

Another board member, former Democratic Sen. Francis X. Kelly, also praised Schrader's work at the medical system but said he would like to see a policy that bars officers with authority over contracts from soliciting political contributions from contractors. Schrader approves contracts based on recommendations sent up the chain of command to his office.

Board Chairman Stewart J. Greenebaum, who is planning a major development in Howard County, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Schrader has raised nearly $173,000 for his GOP primary battle against fellow Councilman Charles C. Feaga, who has raised $113,500. He said he has no plans to stop accepting such donations from medical system contractors, but indicated yesterday his stance could change depending on what the board or Rapoport decides.

"I work for Dr. Rapoport and the board, and I'll wait and see what the deliberations of the organization are, because I work for them," he said.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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