FEC complaint on Ruppersberger filed

Bentley claims $200,000 spent on congressional bid came from his state funds

September 05, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission yesterday, alleging that Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger used nearly $200,000 of his state campaign funds to further his congressional bid.

The complaint raises new questions about a brochure Ruppersberger sent to county residents in the days before he launched his congressional campaign and expands on earlier reports that the executive used state campaign funds to pay for polling and the services of a fund-raising consultant.

While considering a gubernatorial bid, the Democrat, amassed $1.6 million under state fund-raising rules. Federal fund-raising laws are more restrictive than Maryland's, and the use of state campaign funds for a congressional campaign is illegal.

Ruppersberger's campaign manager, Jim Cauley, dismissed the complaint as a political tactic. "If the FEC sends me something, I'll look at it and respond accordingly, but other than that we think it's their version of the situation and it's completely political," Cauley said.

Ruppersberger has said that his federal campaign did not benefit from the use of state funds and that he was actively considering a run for state office until the day he declared he would run for Congress.

Oz Bengur, running against Ruppersberger in the primary Tuesday, filed his own letter of complaint with the FEC last month. "He's been showing a willful disregard of the rules," Bengur said.

Bentley, a Republican who is running for the 2nd District seat, said Ruppersberger's federal campaign account should be fined and forced to reimburse his state account for the $200,000. "We have a very well-documented complaint," she said.

In her complaint to the FEC, Bentley addresses four issues. The first centers on a six-page brochure Ruppersberger sent to residents in April, at a cost of $128,514.70 in state campaign funds, listing his accomplishments as county executive.

The brochure doesn't mention Congress and wasn't targeted to all households in the 2nd Congressional District. Ruppersberger previously said the brochure was a thank you to voters for his two terms as executive.

Bentley alleges the mailings were intended to benefit his congressional campaign. His state campaign finance report shows he paid for them April 15, a day after he signed his statement of candidacy for Congress.

Ruppersberger's campaign has produced an invoice for the mailing dated April 10, indicating it was mailed before the campaign paid for it, and before he signed the statement of candidacy. However, Bentley notes in her complaint that Ruppersberger was quoted in The Sun on April 6 providing a tentative date and itinerary for his congressional announcement.

Bentley also notes in the complaint that the brochure's text and pictures now appear in their entirety on Ruppersberger's campaign Web site.

Paul Sanford, director of the Center for Responsive Politics' FEC Watch, said the FEC has traditionally seen such mailings as legitimate.

Bentley's second complaint centers on $45,500 Ruppersberger's state campaign paid to Harrison Hickman Brown, a Washington-based polling company, on Jan. 25. Ruppersberger has said the poll was intended to test whether he should run for governor, not Congress.

But Bentley includes an affidavit in her complaint claiming that Ruppersberger "boasted" to her during a benefit breakfast that morning that a new congressional district had been drawn for him and indicated "he was very excited about his running for Congress." She also includes a summary page for a poll Harrison Hickman Brown conducted for him in July, and notes that his congressional campaign finance reports indicate no payments to the company.

Cauley said he is still waiting for an invoice from the firm.

Bentley's third complaint is that Ruppersberger paid a fund-raising consultant $37,800 from his state account, dating to late October, at a time when he was raising no money for a state race.

Bentley's fourth complaint alleges that statements by a former Ruppersberger campaign worker and other evidence indicate that the executive's congressional campaign benefited from the use of state campaign funds and that the campaign may have worked to conceal that fact.

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