Richard E. Hug, the chief campaign fundraiser for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., resigned his seat on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents yesterday to comply with a law banning political activities by members of the board.
Hug criticized the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for approving a bill that forced him to choose between helping Ehrlich's re-election effort and working with the Board of Regents, which governs the state's public university system.
"It was a finger in the eye of the governor to try to disrupt his fundraising abilities through me," said Hug, who helped raise $10 million for Ehrlich's 2002 campaign and has reportedly set a goal of twice that this year.
Regent James C. Rosapepe, a Democratic candidate for state Senate, also announced yesterday that the meeting would be his last. Rosapepe's term expires this year, and Ehrlich did not reappoint him.
The new law also prohibits regents from running for elected office.
The legislation was proposed in the aftermath of ethics complaints against two board members, Chairman David H. Nevins and former Gov. Marvin Mandel, for possibly violating a ban against lobbying by regents. It was vetoed by the governor but restored by the Assembly this year.
Nevins was cleared after an internal review by several colleagues on the board, but he said yesterday that Mandel's activities are still being reviewed and that a ruling will soon be issued.
Nevins said he doesn't believe political fundraising should preclude a member from staying on the board. He called the board "nonpartisan."
"Certainly, most of us have other civic interests in the community," Nevins said after the meeting. "Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it ought to be encouraged. So that a regent who chooses to express him or herself politically -- out in the open, legally, ethically, in public view -- it seems to me that it is not necessary to prohibit that. And wrong to prohibit it."
University regents are not paid, but membership on the 17-person board is considered one of the choicest appointments made by a governor, with access to athletic events and other prestigious functions.
Hug, past owner of a company that makes pollution control equipment for power plants, was appointed by the Republican governor in February 2003.
"I really have enjoyed my term on the board," he said yesterday. "I think a lot was accomplished."
Hug's tenure was marked by a call he made to double college tuition, a position that Democratic lawmakers decried.
Assembly leaders called for a freeze in college tuition this year, and Ehrlich provided enough money to lock in current rates.
Hug said in an interview that the university system, which is in the middle of a huge capital campaign, will suffer without him. A well-connected businessman, he said he could have helped with that effort.
A formidable force on the national Republican fundraising scene, Hug was courted in 1998 by President Bush -- then governor of Texas -- to help him raise cash for his White House bid. He became a Bush "Ranger" -- the title given to those who raise more than $200,000 in campaign donations, something Hug did at least five times over.
A number of regents said the new law is bad for the board and by extension bad for the University System.
They said that having people from a range of backgrounds -- including politics -- helps bring different perspectives and resources to their work.
"In the long run, it weakens this system, and it's going to have an impact on the quality of people who serve on this board," said Regent Francis X. Kelly Jr., a former Democratic state senator and chief executive officer of a Hunt Valley insurance company.
Mandel refused to answer questions about his lobbying activities or whether he has considered resigning from the board. He did say that Hug "has been an excellent member of the board" and lamented passage of the law that forced him out.
"Lots of times the legislature can act in haste and then repent at their leisure," said Mandel, who when he was governor appointed Percy Chaimson, the chairman of his 1974 re-election committee, to the Board of Regents.
Bo Harmon, Ehrlich's campaign manager, declined to comment on Hug's resignation.