The Maryland state prosecutor has fined five companies - including a Baltimore strip club that has given money to Mayor Martin O'Malley and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - for exceeding the state's legal limit on campaign donations.
State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said his office discovered the violations by researching a campaign finance database maintained by the Maryland State Board of Elections and through tips from the campaign watchdog group Common Cause and anonymous sources.
"There doesn't seem to be any pattern" to the giving, Rohrbaugh said. "It's not Democratic. It's not Republican. It's just across the board."
The fines total $25,950. Rohrbaugh has penalized 20 companies and individuals this year for giving too much money during a four-year election cycle.
During each cycle, Maryland law limits donations to a candidate to $4,000 and donations to all candidates or committees during to $10,000. Violations are subject to civil penalties, with a maximum fine of $5,000.
Recipients do not have to give the money back, Rohrbaugh said.
PPG Inc., a Baltimore company that runs Norma Jean's Show Bar, a strip club on The Block, was fined $5,000 for exceeding the limit by $5,400 during the 1999-2002 election cycle, Rohrbaugh said.
"It was sloppy bookkeeping, and it's been taken care of," said Gerard Martin, an attorney for PPG.
From 1999 to 2004, PPG gave $4,320 to O'Malley, a Democrat who is running for governor, according to State Board of Elections records. The company gave $450 to Ehrlich in 2004.
Other recipients of PPG donations include former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County; Baltimore Sens. Joan Carter Conway and Lisa A. Gladden; Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon; and Baltimore City Councilman Robert W. Curran. All are Democrats.
Norma Jean's is owned by Peter T. Ireland, who has filed a complaint claiming that the club has been harassed by city liquor board inspectors.
Jonathan Epstein, a spokesman for O'Malley's campaign, said he was not aware of the PPG contributions or the company's affiliation with Norma Jean's. He said the campaign does not accept money from adult entertainment establishments and will refund the donations.
"We have a policy not to accept these checks, but as a practical matter sometimes they slip through, especially with generic corporate names," Epstein said.
John Reith, Ehrlich's campaign finance director, said the governor will return PPG's donations, which he said came from the sale of nine $50 tickets to a November bull roast.
"In the future, we would not accept contributions from organizations like this," Reith said.
L&J Construction Service Inc. of Baltimore was fined $5,000 for exceeding the limit by $10,065 during the 1999-2002 cycle.
Manekin LLC and Manekin Corp., Howard County-based real estate companies, were fined $5,000 each for exceeding the limits from 1999 to 2002.
Rohrbaugh said Manekin Corp. Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Alter told him that the companies' $36,229 in combined donations were intended to come from several limited-liability corporations he controls. Rohrbaugh said the checks came from a single account and did not note the specific company making the donation.
"It certainly wasn't a criminal matter, and we resolved it," said Paul Mark Sandler, Manekin's attorney.
Barwood Cab Co. of Kensington was fined for violations in two election cycles. From 1999 to 2002, the company exceeded the contribution limit by $3,800. During the current election cycle, which began in January 2003, the company has exceeded the limit by $2,150. Barwood was fined $5,950.
The company, a heavy donor to Montgomery County candidates, gave $1,000 to Democratic County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a likely candidate for governor, in 2001, state records show.
John Marshall, an attorney for Barwood, said the company was not aware that it had exceeded the limits and was trying to get some donations back.
"It is not a practice that we intend to continue, to say the least," Marshall said.