Giannetti funding inflated

State senator says errors unintended

Maryland Votes 2006

August 27, 2006|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

State Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., a College Park Democrat locked in a tough re-election battle, has overstated the size of political contributions made to his campaign since 2005, artificially boosting his fundraising total by at least $30,000, according to campaign finance reports.

Contributions from at least nine interest groups and labor unions were inflated on reports the senator filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections, leading critics to suggest that Giannetti exaggerated political donations to create an illusion of high-rolling financial support for his candidacy.

In one instance, Giannetti reported receiving a $4,000 check from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 union in January. In its filings, the union reports giving $1,500 to Giannetti - one check for $500 in 2003 and one for $1,000 in 2002.

Giannetti, first elected to the District 21 Senate seat in 2002, said the errors were unintentional, and he vowed to file an amendment with the board of elections by tomorrow to reconcile the discrepancies. He said he suspects the errors are the result of typos made when the contributions were keyed into the state's accounting software.

"We're going to make any changes that are necessary. It's a challenge to complete these reports properly," Giannetti said.

The reports, filed this month by all Maryland candidates, are intended to open for public review the process of how political campaigns are financed. But the reports often receive attention - especially in more expensive races - as an indication of support. The more money a candidate is able to raise, the theory goes, the stronger the campaign. Giannetti's 2002 election included a narrow primary victory to unseat a veteran senator.

In the most recent campaign finance report, Giannetti said he received just under $174,000 between January and August of this year - about $70,000 from a loan he gave to himself. His leading primary opponent, James C. Rosapepe, reported raising $159,000 over the same period (including $100,000 in loans). This year's primary is scheduled Sept. 12.

But Giannetti's report includes contributions that are significantly larger than the expenditures reported by the donors. In one example, Giannetti reports receiving $2,500 from the Maryland chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The group has not reported any contributions to Giannetti.

Sue Diehl, chairwoman of the organization's political action committee, said that she could not remember whether the committee ever gave to Giannetti. But if it did, she said, it would have been for far less than the $2,500 Giannetti claimed.

Questions about Giannetti's filing, reported this week in the Laurel Leader, are the latest ethical imbroglio the freshman senator has faced. In 2004, the General Assembly's ethics committee admonished Giannetti for sponsoring legislation that appeared to benefit his employer's clients.

In 2003, Giannetti used his Senate e-mail account to publicize a political volunteer effort on behalf of former presidential candidate Howard Dean. Giannetti later conceded that he should not have used state e-mail to promote a political event.

Rosapepe, who served in the House of Delegates from 1987 to 1997 before leaving to become the U.S. ambassador to Romania, was reluctant to discuss whether he thought the issue would have any affect on the election. A review of Rosapepe's contributions since 2005 found no similar discrepancies among political action committee contributions.

"If he intentionally filed fraudulent reports on this scale, it's very serious," Rosapepe said.

Giannetti said he first learned of the errors when a reporter called him last week. He dismissed any suggestion that the discrepancies were entered intentionally to boost the amount of money the campaign would report.

"I will take total blame for it," Giannetti said. "There were some errors in the report. ... It's nothing out of the ordinary. We certainly want to get the numbers right."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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