Maryland inaugural a feast of donations

Glendening's 2 balls paid for by firms with business before state

`Seeing and being seen'

January 07, 1999|By Gady A. Epstein and JoAnna Daemmrich | Gady A. Epstein and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

What does it take to be a VIP? At the governor's inaugural ball, all you need is $30,000.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening's inaugural celebration is becoming a fund-raising feast, drawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from an array of businesses with state interests -- and drawing criticism from political opponents and a government watchdog group.

Four years ago, Glendening's inaugural committee asked for contributions of up to $15,000 to help pay for two parties, and he was criticized for asking special interests to pony up large sums just before the annual General Assembly session.

This year, it takes a $30,000 check to become a "VIP" sponsor, which buys 20 seats at a Jan. 20 ball at the Baltimore Convention Center, along with invitations to a pre-ball reception and a Jan. 17 cocktail party in College Park.

With roughly $200,000 raised, nobody has volunteered to pay the $30,000 VIP price, according to the inaugural committee. But the Baltimore Orioles and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. are paying $20,000 each to be "Diamond" sponsors, and AT&T, Lockheed Martin and Allegheny Power have contributed at the $10,000 "Gold" sponsorship level.

Several top lobbyists and law firms also say they will make contributions.

The inaugural committee released the names of some sponsors yesterday but says it won't provide a complete list until the fund-raising effort is over.

Inaugural fund raising has become standard American fare, and because inaugural committees usually are not covered by the rules of campaign finance, they can tap special interests for large-scale contributions that would be illegal in most campaigns. The legal limit for a Maryland gubernatorial candidate, for instance, is $8,000 per contributor.

"When you go to somebody and ask them for $30,000, they're going to ask for something in return," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican and the House minority whip. "That kind of demand for money far exceeds the rule of reasonableness."

Some of the largest contributors have important business with the state. BGE has billions of dollars at stake in utility deregulation, which is expected to be a priority in the General Assembly this session. A Lockheed Martin subsidiary is asking the state for an extension of a three-year contract to manage child-support collection services in Baltimore and Queen Anne's County.

Contributors say their donations have no connection to their political interests.

"I guess you put it under the category of good citizenship," said Ron Meder, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin in Bethesda. "We supported inaugurals in sev- eral states where we have a major presence."

The governor's staff and the inaugural committee say raising large sums of money helps keep ticket prices low for everyone else. Tickets for the ball, which follows Glendening's inauguration Jan. 20, cost $150 each. Tickets for the College Park affair are $75.

`Keep it affordable'

"People are contributing at whatever level they find appropriate and affordable," said Ray Feldmann, Glendening's spokesman. "We want to put on a nice inaugural event, but we also want to keep it affordable."

Said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a watchdog group: "What you'll hear is that this really benefits the people of the state because they don't have to pay for it.

"Oh please. It's seeing and being seen in anticipation of all the lucrative business the state will be doing in the coming year," she said.

At least 3,000 people are expected to attend the ball in the Baltimore Convention Center -- and 1,000 are expected in College Park. The parties could cost up to a half-million dollars, officials say, to be paid for with private donations.

Any money left over will be donated to charities. Four years ago, the recipients included hospices and arts groups that are the favorite causes of Maryland's first lady, Frances Hughes Glendening.

Orchestrating sales of the inaugural tickets and tables is Dee Outlaw, a national Democratic fund-raiser who served as deputy finance director for Glendening's re-election campaign.

"I'm trying to scrape my pennies together," joked Gerard E. Evans, a leading Annapolis lobbyist. Evans said he and most of his clients would "be there -- and well-represented."

He defended the notion of corporate sponsorship, saying: "If the governor were using tax dollars for this, he'd be dragged through the streets. This is the only appropriate way really to fund an inaugural."

Besides, he said, Glendening supporters are looking forward to a celebration. And those who backed the losing Republican, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, may be seeking a way to get back in the governor's good graces.

Schaefer's celebration

Glendening's predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, is celebrating his return to public life as state comptroller with a large but low-key affair in the State House.

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