Campaign cash follows vote shift State senator says no donation discussed in tobacco bill battle

Angelos helps Ferguson

October 30, 1998|By Greg Garland and Michael Dresser | Greg Garland and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

When state Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson broke ranks with his party and switched his vote to end a Republican-led filibuster of a tobacco bill in April, the Carroll County lawmaker stunned his GOP colleagues.

They were unhappy with Ferguson, but his turnabout earned him the gratitude of Baltimore lawyer and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, a major Democratic Party contributor pushing for the bill's passage.

Three months after Ferguson's vote, businesses owned or controlled by Angelos or his sons made the first of what totals $4,500 in campaign contributions to the Republican, unusual for a family that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democrats on the state and national levels.

The bill at issue was aimed at making it easier for the state to prevail in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against tobacco companies. As the lawyer handling the state's case, Angelos stands to collect millions in legal fees if the cigarette companies are forced to pay.

In an interview this week, Angelos denied the donations were directly linked to the vote switch, but he repeatedly cited Ferguson's "courageous" vote on the tobacco bill as a big reason for giving to his campaign despite differences with the senator -- one of the most conservative legislators in Annapolis -- on many issues.

"This vote was a key vote," Angelos said. "I appreciated that he voted for the bill because he cast a vote that was consistent with the best interests of Maryland, and for that I salute him and made a campaign contribution."

Angelos said that, before the vote, he had urged Ferguson to change his vote to help end the filibuster. But he said he did not promise anything in return.

Ferguson said his vote to end the filibuster had nothing to do with any expectation of campaign contributions. He said he was not even aware, until told this week by a reporter, that the companies that contributed the $4,500 were affiliated with Angelos or his sons.

The contributions were $2,500 from 1300 N. Charles LLC, $1,000 from W. York Limited Partnership, and $500 each from Camden Cotton Ball Co. and Chesapeake Bay Seafood Co. -- relatively hefty amounts in a state Senate race. Angelos said he is the majority owner of 1300 N. Charles LLC and W. York Limited Partnership and that his sons own the other two businesses.

"I didn't see Angelos' name on any of these," Ferguson said. "What if Angelos did cut me a check? What is Peter Angelos, the anti-Christ?"

'Disgust with my party'

Ferguson said that he gets contributions from many businesses because of his "pro-business" voting record and that he doesn't always know who owns them. He has raised $114,137 for his re-election effort against Democrat George H. Littrell Jr. and spent all but $5,483 of it, according to his most recent campaign finance report. His district consists of parts of Carroll and Frederick counties.

So why did Ferguson change sides on the filibuster vote?

"I switched my vote out of disgust with my party," he said. "The reason we're labeled as 'Country Club Republicans' is because we're standing up for multibillion-dollar corporations, but not for the little guys like the farmers."

He said he thought it was hypocritical to filibuster the tobacco bill when Republicans were unwilling to do the same on a Pfiesteria bill affecting Maryland farmers.

The vote was uncharacteristic for Ferguson, who has consistently sided with tobacco interests on legislation that has come before his Senate committee. On five occasions over the past two years, he has voted to kill bills restricting the sale of tobacco from vending machines.

Ferguson's April 2 vote to end the filibuster came at a critical juncture in the last days of the legislative session -- as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller desperately tried to round up the 32 votes from the 47-member Senate needed to move the bill forward.

All 15 Senate Republicans, joined by a handful of Democrats, had voted twice against limiting debate on the bill, thereby preventing a vote of the full Senate. On the third vote, Ferguson abruptly switched sides.

"I could have fallen off the chair when I heard he was doing that," said F. Vernon Boozer, the minority leader, who has since been defeated for re-election in the Republican primary.

Boozer described himself as in the minority of Republicans that supported the bill but could not bring himself to vote against a filibuster backed by the GOP caucus. He said Ferguson never explained why he changed position.

Ferguson recalls talking on the Senate floor about no one standing up for farmers as the GOP was for the tobacco companies.

Asked why he had voted the two previous times to support the filibuster, Ferguson said: "You have to go along with your party fTC some distance, but I also cannot go along with supporting a business that hurts people and lies to Congress about it."

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