Mayoral candidates often late filing data

Three top contenders have tardy records on campaign reports

August 14, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

The top three contenders in the Democratic race for mayor of Baltimore are all chronic violators of the Maryland law requiring timely disclosure of campaign contributions, election records show.

The campaign committees of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, City Councilman Martin O'Malley and former school board member Carl Stokes all have been cited numerous times for missing the deadlines for disclosing campaign finances.

Officials of each campaign have paid hundreds of dollars in fees for late filings from previous elections over the course of the candidate's political career. In each case, the tardiness persisted in spite of the state elections board's policy of notifying candidates of any delinquency.

A fourth major contender, Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway, has not been penalized for lateness.

An inspection of state election board records showed that the three best-known candidates are in a close contest for top scofflaw: O'Malley and his campaign treasurer have paid $860 in fees for 11 late reports since 1990. One of the reports for his committee, Friends of Martin O'Malley, was six months late.

Two committees to support Bell have paid a total of $1,800 for 16 violations going back as far as 1987. The most recent two violations, for which a Bell campaign official paid $500, occurred last October and November.

The former campaign chairman for Stokes paid $910 in fees early this year for four late filings in 1998. The elections board granted a waiver on an additional $1,500 in penalties for late filings from 1995 through 1997 because the statute of limitations had expired. The reports, which covered a period during which the campaign was inactive, were as much as three years late.

The violations were for campaigns prior to this year's Baltimore mayoral election. One report has been required so far in the mayoral election, and all three candidates filed that one on time. The next report is due Tuesday, and all three campaigns said they would again be on time.

Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said the three candidates' track records were "dismal at best."

"The voters in the city ought to demand more respect," Skullney said. "How can they accept all of those assertions of fiscal and financial responsibility when one of the simplest and most basic requirements, such as contribution reports, can't be consistently met?"

State law requires candidates to disclose the identity of their contributors and to reveal how the money they raise is spent at specific times during the four-year election cycle. Campaign committees that file late pre-election reports are subject to a $20 late fee for each of the first six days a report is late, and $10 a day thereafter, up to a maximum of $250 per report.

The penalties cannot be paid out of the campaign treasuries, but must be borne by the candidate or the treasurer out of personal funds.

Stokes' late fees were paid by his former chairman, Nelson Stewart. Penalties for one of Bell's two committees, the Friends of Lawrence Bell, were paid by his mother and treasurer, Elinor Bell. Late fees of $500 for the other committee, the Lawrence Bell Committee, were paid by treasurer Thomas Huggins.

The bulk of the O'Malley campaigns' late fees were paid by his treasurer, Martin Cadogan. But O'Malley himself paid $290 of the penalties.

O'Malley said Cadogan, a lawyer, has prepared his reports for many years.

"He does a good job, but oftentimes the filing deadlines come up when he is in court or on other business," the councilman said. O'Malley said most of the reports were filed within a few days of the deadline, but records show that one report due in September 1994 was six months late, costing the candidate $250.

Stokes' campaign issued a written statement: "All of my financial reports for the mayoral race have been filed on time. And I can assure you that the reports due this Tuesday will also be filed on time."

The reports that were late are not the ones that have come due since Stokes announced his campaign for mayor last December. They involve the campaign committee he has kept open since a 1994 state Senate bid. That committee was required to make periodic reports even though it was inactive.

Correspondence in the election board's file shows that Stokes left the position of campaign treasurer unfilled from 1995 to 1998.

Stewart, then the Stokes campaign chairman, told the board he didn't have the files needed to prepare the reports. He nevertheless paid $910 before resigning the chairmanship. Stewart said yesterday that last fall Stokes was not aware his treasurer had resigned and that reports were going unfiled, though the elections board routinely sends copies of late notices to candidates.

Bell's campaign issued a statement saying that all the City Council president's reports have been filed and that the campaign owes no outstanding fees.

"For the past four years, my campaign has been reasonably compliant. This is a reflection of my effort to reorganize under a new committee and selecting a treasurer with an accounting background," the statement said.

Bell's statement said he has always run a "low-budget, volunteer-managed" campaign. "In this situation, it is not uncommon for mistakes to arise due to volunteer inexperience," it said.

Most of the Bell violations were committed by his original campaign committee, for which his mother has acted as campaign treasurer. But records show that the most recent Bell campaign violations took place in 1998 at his newer campaign committee, on the watch of treasurer Huggins.

Huggins said the reports last year were delayed because of serious health problems in his family. He said he told Bell the filings would be late and that the candidate understood.

Pub Date: 8/14/99

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