Health forum proceeds to go to charity Democrats drop plan to use funds for campaigning

October 14, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Democratic leaders of the House of Delegates have dropped a plan to channel funds raised at a health policy forum into political campaigns, saying proceeds from the event will go to charity instead.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, sponsor of the Oct. 28 forum, said yesterday the money will be given to Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore. When the $150-a-ticket event was first publicized in The Sun on Saturday, Rawlings said the money would go to Democratic candidates in tight House races.

The combination policy forum and fund-raiser raised eyebrows because of the influential legislators being brought together to raise money from people interested in a key issue before the General Assembly.

In addition to Rawlings, the Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, the forum will feature the chairmen of two committees and two subcommittees that deal with health issues. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. will also speak. With such a lineup, the forum could be seen as a "must-attend" event for health care lobbyists and executives.

"Almost everybody agreed it was way out of bounds," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican. As the minority party, Republicans control no committee chairmanships in the House.

In his announcement, Rawlings said he was diverting the money to charity even though the forum violated no laws or ethics rules and was based on a fund-raising format used by both parties in Congress.

"I believe that to avoid undue controversy, the net proceeds from this forum are best donated to a nonprofit health care-related organization," Rawlings said in his statement. Ronald McDonald House provides lodging for people whose family members are undergoing treatment at local hospitals.

Del. Michael E. Busch, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, said he feels more comfortable taking part in the forum knowing there is no "cloud" over the event.

"We don't want to give anyone the impression we're trying to do anything unethical," said the Annapolis Democrat. "I'm more than happy to do it for nothing."

Kittleman said he was satisfied with Rawlings' solution.

"They can contribute all they want to charity. It's wonderful," he said. "In fact, I'd rather have them doing that than campaigning."

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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