Excess political donations draw fine

Movie producer to pay $119,000 for violating Md. law

October 06, 2007|By James Drew | James Drew,Sun Reporter

A Baltimore businessman and movie producer has agreed to pay $119,000 in fines after he was cited for using several corporations to make contributions exceeding the amounts allowed by Maryland law to the state's leading political figures before last year's elections.

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said 24 civil citations were filed yesterday in Anne Arundel County District Court against James G. Robinson, best known as the producer of such movies as Young Guns, Pacific Heights and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

As part of a plea agreement, Robinson agreed to pay fines equal to the amount by which his contributions exceeded state limits, the state prosecutor's office said. He will not have to appear in court.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incorrect information provided to The Sun, an article on campaign contributions in yesterday's editions incorrectly said that a fine paid by a Baltimore businessman and movie producer would go to the state prosecutor's office. The fine will go to Maryland's general fund, according to an official with the office.
The Sun regrets the error.

Robinson didn't return messages yesterday, and his attorney, James Ulwick, declined to comment.

Rohrbaugh said in a news release that Robinson used 20 corporations in which he is the sole stockholder to give $34,000 to Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign, $58,000 to Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown's campaign and $33,000 to Peter Franchot's campaign for state comptroller. Robinson also contributed $4,000 in his name to Franchot's campaign.

Under Maryland law, contributions by two or more corporations owned by the same stockholders are considered to have been made by one contributor, Rohrbaugh said. Under state law, an individual or business may give no more than $4,000 to a candidate during a four-year election cycle and no more than $10,000 total during that time.

O'Malley and Brown have returned $96,000 they received from Robinson. O'Malley said last month that he was "very sorry" that his staff hadn't caught the excess contributions.

"We were receiving hundreds of checks every day," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said yesterday. "We had a pretty thorough vetting process in place, but in this particular case the campaign vetting process did not work. Once we realized that the checks were in violation of campaign finance law, we moved quickly to return the contributions."

Franchot's fundraiser, Tim Daly, said Franchot plans to return $58,000 that Robinson's attorneys said exceeded the amounts allowed under Maryland law. That included $37,000 from last year's election cycle and $21,000 contributed early this year.

"Mr. Robinson believed he was within the rules. This is just an exceptional situation. It gives everyone an opportunity to make sure that even the spirit of all the rules are being followed as closely as possible," Daly said.

Rohrbaugh announced the charges against Robinson in a news release in which he said that three companies - Landex Management Corp. and Parking Management Systems Inc. of Baltimore, and Quadrangle Development Corp. of Washington - also have been charged over the past three months with campaign finance violations. Those companies paid a total of $10,091 in fines, he said.

"In every instance, this office's investigation determined that criminal prosecution was not warranted since there was insufficient evidence to conclude that any of the persons intentionally violated the law," Rohrbaugh said in a statement. "But in each case, it was appropriate to impose meaningful sanctions. The fines are commensurate with the amount of the over contributions."

Rohrbaugh could not be reached for comment.

Robinson, a Dundalk native, has residences in Baltimore and Los Angeles, where he owns Morgan Creek Productions.

Robinson, who has little previous record of political activity in Maryland, began to make his contributions as he pursued a federal lawsuit and a Federal Maritime Commission complaint against the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Robinson said leaders at the port of Baltimore refused to negotiate reasonable terms for the renewal of his farm equipment repair business' lease on 6.4 acres at Dundalk Marine Terminal, to the advantage of one of his competitors.

The state prevailed in Robinson's lawsuit this summer, and it continues to contest the Federal Maritime Commission complaint.

Eight days after a federal bankruptcy court ruled in June 2006 that the state could evict Robinson's company, Premier Automotive Services, nine armed Maryland Transportation Authority police officers and port officials raided Robinson's warehouse, arresting a worker who refused to leave and seizing control of 170 tractors that were being repaired on the lot.

A judge said the state had violated a court rule requiring it to wait 10 days before evicting Robinson, and the state was prohibited from taking further action until Robinson's appeal was resolved.

Robinson said the raid was "out of a B movie" and canceled plans to shoot scenes of the movie The Good Shepherd in Baltimore, opting for New York instead.

"I started with nothing, fresh out of the Army," he told The Sun at the time. "The state's been good to me. But now I'm supposed to be enthusiastic about doing business here?"

A port spokesman said Premier Automotive has removed its cargo and equipment from its lot at the port.

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