Organization accuses political donors of exceeding limit

Common Cause names 14 Arundel contributors

October 07, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Ten companies and four people in Anne Arundel County - many with ties to development - exceeded the state's limits for campaign contributions over the past four years, the public interest group Common Cause/Maryland said in a report issued yesterday.

"This goes to the issue of, `How much influence do wealthy voters have?' and `How much should they have?' " said James Browning, the nonprofit group's executive director. Development is a commonly debated issue in a county where political leaders regularly must weigh land preservation against growth.

Several donors listed on the report said they are investigating, but many also said they question its accuracy.

State law prohibits individuals or companies from contributing more than $10,000 during a four-year election cycle.

Koch Realty of Annapolis topped the report distributed by Common Cause, which pulled its information from state election records. According to the group, Koch Realty made $27,175 in contributions in the cycle that ended Dec. 31 last year.

The recipients included Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, Speaker of the House of Delegates Michael E. Busch and four current Anne Arundel County Council members: Democrats Bill D. Burlison and Pamela G. Beidle, as well as Republicans Cathleen M. Vitale and Edward R. Reilly.

"We are looking into this immediately," company President Gary Koch said in a written statement released yesterday. "We have worked in all areas to comply with the law and we will comply with the election law. If we exceeded any legal limits it was unintentional."

Common Cause gathered the information from the state Board of Elections Web site, Browning said.

It issued a similar report on Montgomery County this year.

"They weren't all violations," said State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who investigated the Montgomery findings. "[Common Cause] had valid criticism, though. They were correct in most of them, I would say."

Montanarelli said he asked donors who exceeded the limits to retrieve all donations over $10,000. If they complied, he closed their cases and issued a warning that he would prosecute further violations.

"You're only allowed one strike," he said.

Four of the 13 Montgomery cases remain open, he said. Montanarelli said he will look into the Anne Arundel report.

Browning pushed for the prosecutor to get tougher.

"It's going to take some convictions to raise public consciousness about this," he said.

Some of the people and companies identified in the report responded yesterday that they were named in error.

The chief financial officer of United Propane of Millersville said her company, which has the same owners as other companies, occasionally writes checks for those companies. United notes on each such check that the payment actually is from the other company, which later reimburses United, she said. She attributed the Common Cause finding to that practice.

CFO Darshana Patel said United records show it gave $7,000 during the last cycle, not the $12,040 that Common Cause reported.

Restaurateur Charles N. Bassford of Davidsonville said his checks totaling $11,100 were written from a joint account he holds with his daughter. He said he has cleared the matter with the state prosecutor and is not in violation because only half of the donations were his.

"That got me off the hook, and I quit giving to anybody," he said.

Others named by Common Cause, along with the donation amounts in the report, were:

Reliable Contracting Inc., a Millersville construction company, $15,115. (Tricia Baldwin, responding for the company, said that - after a brief review - she had found some discrepancies between the group's report and her company's records. She did not give details in her e-mail response.)

DavCo Restaurants, a Crofton holding company for some Wendy's restaurants, $13,455. (Company officials did not respond to a phone inquiry by The Sun.)

RGII Technologies, an Annapolis information technology firm, $13,250. ("If it is excess, it was an error," said Kathy Freeland, chief executive officer, who added that she is looking into the report's findings.)

Professional Consulting Services in Glen Burnie, $13,095. (Company officials did not respond to a phone inquiry.)

One Call Concepts, a Hanover company that provides assistance to people working around utility lines, $12,725. (Company officials did not respond to a phone inquiry.)

Peroutka and Peroutka law firm in Pasadena, $12,220. (Spokesman John Lofton said the firm's members "are obviously familiar with the law, and they're looking into it.")

McLean Contracting, a Glen Burnie heavy construction firm, $11,180. (Fred Rich, executive vice president, said of the report, "It just doesn't appear to me to be correct." He added, "Certainly there's no intent to exceed.")

Annapolis Carpentry Contractors Inc., $11,000. (Company officials did not respond to an inquiry).

Developer Robert P. DeStefano of Annapolis, $14,500. (He did not return a phone message.)

Michael A. Peroutka of Pasadena, $11,600. (He referred similar questions about his law firm to a spokesman.)

Michael Stavlas of Linthicum, $10,890. (He did not return a phone message.)

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