Federal election law may have been violated

Ruppersberger campaign used state-raised funds for congressional race

May 02, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's campaign staff has admitted that volunteers might have violated federal election finance law the day he kicked off his bid for Congress when they handed out brochures and bumper stickers paid for with state campaign funds.

On the second stop of his congressional campaign Monday, volunteers distributed a six-page, full-color brochure promoting his accomplishments over the past eight years. They also handed out green and yellow bumper stickers, left from Ruppersberger's 1998 run for county executive, at a senior center in Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood.

Federal law prohibits the use of funds or assets raised for a state campaign in a race for federal office.

Ruppersberger mailed the same brochure to homes across the county last week.

The mailing and the brochures were paid for with money Ruppersberger raised while considering a run for governor, but they do not mention Congress and were mailed before he declared his candidacy, so they are legal under state campaign finance law.

Michael H. Davis, a former top aide to Ruppersberger who is now volunteering with the campaign, said the brochures and bumper stickers probably count as assets and should not be handed out on congressional campaign stops.

He blamed the problem on overzealous volunteers who weren't aware of the law and said he will make sure it doesn't happen again.

"I'll talk to them and make sure they know they're not supposed to hand [the brochures] out in congressional political events," he said.

"We're going to print another piece, a `vote for Ruppersberger for Congress' piece, using federal money. It's hard when you do a transition, particularly when you have volunteers who don't know exactly what they're doing."

Ian Stern, a campaign finance law specialist with the Federal Election Commission, said he can't comment on a specific case unless the commission has released a complaint or issued an advisory opinion.

Of the more than 1,300 opinions the commission has issued over the past 25 years, none deal with the question of what, exactly, constitutes an asset.

A bumper sticker, Stern said, probably fits the bill, though.

The reason funds and assets cannot be transferred is that state fund-raising rules are more permissive than federal regulations.

Ruppersberger is running for the Democratic nomination in the newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District, which runs from Randallstown through Timonium to the east side of the county and includes portions of the city and Anne Arundel and Harford counties. The seat is held by Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

The switch to a federal campaign presents all sorts of logistical difficulties for Ruppersberger. His campaign office in Timonium, for example, is the same one he has maintained for a possible gubernatorial bid.

When workers there scrambled to get ready for the campaign announcement Monday, they printed copies of Ruppersberger's speech for members of the media on the back of a letterhead promoting Ruppersberger for county executive. Davis said the campaign is in the process of straightening all that out.

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