Developers display largesse to Craig

Finance reports show hand of business in executive race

Maryland Votes 2006

August 20, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

At the opening of his campaign headquarters in June, County Executive David R. Craig stepped to the podium to address supporters and delivered what has become a familiar refrain - that his Democratic opponent, Ann C. Helton, was financing her campaign through her "wealthy developer spouse."

"I am not personally rich, so I won't be buying this election," Craig said. "I don't have a wealthy developer spouse to pay for my campaign."

Though he might not have a wealthy spouse, a review of Craig's fundraising suggests his campaign has benefited greatly from developer money. The Sun found that more than half of the $356,000 Craig has raised since 2003 came from developers, their companies, associates and relatives. A significant amount also was collected through other businesses and attorneys.

Representatives of Craig's campaign said his contributions have come from a broad base of support, from large and small contributors. They point to his veto of the most recent comprehensive rezoning bill - a move that stalled business projects and irritated many in the development community - as proof that his vote cannot be bought.

"The county executive has proven himself to have a very clear plan on how to shape and manage growth in Harford County," said Craig's chief of staff, Aaron N. Tomarchio. "He is prepared to do what he feels is right."

Helton acknowledges using personal resources in her campaign. The difference, she said, is that using her own money leaves her in debt to no one but herself.

"You will never convince me that someone who raises such large sums of money from a special interest will ignore them after the election," she said. "It can't be done, and it has never been done here."

For Craig, several large contributors led the way, making multiple donations by giving through various companies or relatives. Developer Clark Turner contributed at least $11,450 through six associated companies, including $2,000 from Clark Turner Signature Homes, $2,950 from Clark Turner Inc. and $2,000 as an individual. The Dresher family, which owns several restaurants and hotels, also gave an estimated $8,500.

If anything, Craig's contributions show he is not gun-shy after a bruising loss in the 1998 primary for county executive when James M. Harkins tarred him as "pro-development." Harkins collected more money from developers that year, but that label has stuck with Craig in the eyes of some.

Yet it remains to be seen whether accusations of candidates being too close with developers - though a familiar criticism at election time - resonate with voters. Many of the most ardent anti-growth candidates in recent years have come up short, and Helton's criticisms of Craig are reminiscent of those made by her husband when he faced Harkins in 1998 general election.

"We've been raising that issue with voters the last several election cycles, and in many of the races, the developer-backed candidates have nevertheless won," said Michael G. Comeau, chairman of the county's Democratic Central Committee.

According to figures released last week, Craig outpaced Helton in fundraising since January, the last reporting date, collecting more than $200,000 and boosting his total receipts to $348,900. Helton raised $40,800, giving her $145,800.

Business contributions - through direct contributions or purchases of tickets to fundraisers - represented 56 percent of Craig's total fundraising, as compared with about 29 percent for Helton. In dollars, that translates to $195,900 for Craig and $42,400 for Helton.

As Craig has noted, Helton's list of contributions featured large chunks from family. Both she and her husband, Arthur H. Helton Jr., a former state senator and developer who has made several runs for county offices, gave $4,000, the maximum allowable amount.

They kicked in another $6,000 through two limited liability corporations they co-own, and Arthur Helton's brother added $4,000.

Overall, her campaign has benefited from a large donations from few contributors. Fifty-one of the first 68 donations Helton accepted were for $1,000 or more - but such generous giving has since slowed.

Craig's donations, buoyed by several fundraisers, were more spread out. But a review by The Sun found that at least $180,000 of his total came from development interests - that is, homebuilders, construction companies, contractors, and related fields, as well as tangential sources such as limited liability corporations and relatives.

Tomarchio said the campaign doesn't argue that developers factored in.

"We're open and honest with who supports us," he said.

Among those also contributing large amounts, according to the records:

The Klein family, owners of Klein's Family Markets. Through individual donations, they gave $6,000.

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