Schrader will return some funds Campaign money was from contractors he did business with

He denies wrongdoing

Critics said action by Howard candidate showed ethical lapses

September 06, 1998|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Howard County Republican Dennis R. Schrader decided yesterday to return many of the contributions he accepted for his county executive's race from contractors he has done business with at the University of Maryland Medical System, saying he did nothing wrong but wanted to protect both the system's reputation and his own.

Schrader, a vice president who approves most construction and renovation projects at the medical system, also said he will not accept any more contributions from current or recent medical system contractors.

He had accepted $23,000 in donations from at least 30 current and former medical system contractors, accounting for about 13 percent of his contributions. He hasn't determined exactly how much of that he will return.

"Because I do not wish to cause any harm to the reputation of the University of Maryland Medical System, and because I do not want there to be even the slightest doubt about my integrity, I have decided to return this money," Schrader said in a statement issued last night.

Schrader said he only sought contributions from contractors who were personal friends.

His statement also took issue with The Sun for its coverage: "Despite the fact that I have done nothing wrong, the Sun continues to press the issue."

In an interview last night, Schrader said he wanted to avoid "even the appearance of a problem."

Ethicists and two influential Maryland state legislators had criticized Schrader's solicitations, suggesting the appearance of a conflict of interest. Medical system officials staunchly defended the solicitations as appropriate, but said its board of directors would address the issue at its meeting later this month. Schrader said he did not consult yesterday with medical system officials before making his decision.

"I've evaluated what people have said, and it's clear that if there's a perception or the appearance of a problem, I want to err on the side of caution and put it to bed," Schrader said. "People are saying stuff about me, and I'm just going to be as conservative as possible on this."

The University of Maryland Medical System includes University of Maryland Medical Center, Maryland Shock Trauma and other medical institutions.

Baltimore Democratic Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who had been one of Schrader's harsher critics on the issue, praised Schrader's decision to return the donations.

"In today's society, the appearance of impropriety gets blown all out of proportion and can impact an institution or individual that they're connected with, so he ought to be commended for this move," said Rawlings, a Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He also represents the House on the medical system's board of directors.

"You try to avoid these types of conflicts, and I hope his actions will help [others] to avoid them in the future."

Schrader said the issue was created by desperate supporters of his primary opponent, fellow Councilman Charles C. Feaga. He accused Feaga's campaign of spreading rumors about the solicitations until the issue became public.

"This is a last-ditch effort to destroy somebody's reputation and an institution's reputation," Schrader said. "I'm not going to let that happen."

Feaga, 65, denied last night that his campaign had anything to do with spreading rumors.

Schrader, 45, said returning the money won't hurt his primary campaign. He said it will take time for his campaign to pay back all the money, and he won't return contributions to contractors who haven't done business with the hospital in years. He said his fund-raisers also plan to work harder to make up whatever money he returns.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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