BALTIMORE COUNTY Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan are formidable fund-raisers in Maryland, but take them to North Carolina and they're just a couple of big guys with Northern accents.
Not so with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She of the famous middle name raised about $40,000 in contributions during a Sept. 22 swing through the Tarheel State.
Townsend's North Carolina foray is a vivid example of the fund-raising advantage she enjoys as she gears up for her widely expected run for governor in 2002. With a whirlwind trip into any one of dozens of cities around the country, Townsend can raise tens of thousands of dollars -- often from a small core group of ardent admirers.
Ruppersberger and Duncan, regarded as her most likely rivals for the Democratic nomination, can't play in that league. (An exception would be Delaware, where Ruppersberger's ties with credit card giant MBNA Corp. have yielded handsome dividends.)
Townsend's fund-raising success in North Carolina is largely attributable to entrepreneur and Democratic Party activist Andrew Reyes.
Reyes and four companies operating from his address in Charlotte kicked in $4,000 apiece for $20,000. Two employees of his publishing company, Nathan Wolf and Emmanuel Barbe, also gave $8,000. Three other North Carolinians, one a friend of Wolf's, donated $4,000 each.
The companies at Reyes' address are Barksdale IV, A. R. & Associates, Reyzdale Properties Inc. and Seyer Communications Inc.
Using multiple companies or partnerships to funnel contributions is a popular way to dodge the legal limit in Maryland of $4,000 per candidate. It has been employed by givers to Democrats and Republicans alike.
But after the cluster of big-money gifts was brought to his attention, Townsend campaign treasurer Jeffrey Liss said the campaign would return the $16,000 in corporate checks from Reyes' address. "We're going to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," said Liss.
Reyes, a contractor and the publisher of a Spanish-language magazine and newspaper, ranks 77th on Mother Jones magazine's list of political fat cats, with $119,200 in federal contributions to Democratic causes. The contributions to Townsend's Maryland political committee would not be included in that amount.
In April, Reyes was elected chairman of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party -- a milestone that drew attention because he is openly gay.
The fund raising was not Reyes' first experience with the Kennedy family.
The Raleigh News and Observer reported that he was caught in an embarrassing misrepresentation last summer when he claimed to have talked with John F. Kennedy Jr. in the days before his death in an airplane accident about attending a Charlotte fund-raiser.
Reyes, 33, did not return phone calls.
Wolf, a vice president of Seyer Communications, said several hundred people turned out in September when Townsend spoke at a Democratic Party rally.
He said her appearance helped energize local Democrats in their successful effort to retake control of the Charlotte City Council in November's election.
"Having a Kennedy in town helps to raise the awareness of the need to elect Democrats locally," he said.
Some hear different bell in State House indictment
The recent indictment of a State House lobbyist and a Baltimore delegate in an alleged "bell-ringing" scheme raises a question: Why is it called bell-ringing?
By most accounts, a bell-ringer is legislation or an amendment aimed directly at an industry or person.
That could mean, for example, a bill to increase punitive damages against the makers of a dangerous product.
By filing the bill or amendment -- or talking about doing so -- a lawmaker gets the target's attention as effectively as if a loud bell had rung. The person who files the bell-ringer has leverage to extract favors from the targeted entity.
An alternate explanation of the term is offered.
A company or special interest that is hit with such a bill will naturally respond by hiring a lobbyist to fend off the legislation.
So, for State House lobbyists, the bell that rings is the sound of the cash register opening -- "Ka-ching!"