How much should you tip?


July 25, 2008|By LAURA VOZZELLA

It's easier than you think to drop $70,000 on dinner for two at the Center Club.

Just order the lamb chop starter, cream of crab soup, tenderloin and crab cake paired with asparagus, and for dessert, flourless chocolate cake with house-made vanilla bean ice cream. Wash it down with Stag's Leap merlot and Sonoma-Cutrer "Les Pierres" chardonnay. Then top it all off with some up-close-and-personal time with John McCain.

Hold the McCain, and the tab is considerably easier to swallow: per person, it's $11.95 for the chops, $8 for the soup, $55 for the surf-n-turf and $6 for the cake. The merlot is $58 a bottle. The chardonnay, $65.

Food was beside the point for the well-heeled donors who forked over $70,000 per couple to dine with the presidential candidate before a larger fundraising reception at the Center Club on Tuesday night.

Ravens minority owner Patricia Modell, who attended with her husband, Art, had a nibble of the crab cake, but that was it.

"I didn't eat much of anything," she said. "I don't eat when I'm listening to people. I really don't. The best thing for me to lose weight is to go out to dinner with people. I listen to people and I forget what's on the plate. All our attention was on him and getting to know him. ... I should have gotten a rebate."

And Modell ate a lot more than some. A total of about 20 people bought tickets to the dinner, but only about a dozen showed up, a source says. Clearly those donors can grab a bite to eat, and a word with McCain, any time they please.

How can anybody legally donate $70,000 to Sen. McCain, champion of campaign finance reform?

The invite says nothing about the $70,000-per-couple meal. The top ticket appears to be $2,300, which includes a VIP reception and photo.

But the fine print at the bottom lays out a way around that pesky $2,300 federal donation limit.

"The first $2,300 to JM 2008, the next $2,300 to the Compliance Fund, the next $28,500 to the RNC, and the balance of up to $37,000 will be divided evenly between the Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Wisconsin state parties' federal accounts."

No doubt the Dems have similar schemes. If anybody's got a copy of their invites, send 'em on.

Seems someone's father talked out of school

While there was no secret about the larger fundraising reception McCain held at the Center Club, the V-VIP dinner was on the QT.

Word only leaked out because the father of Maryland's former governor spilled the beans, The Sun's David Nitkin reports. Nitkin based his account on a pool report by Adam Aigner-Treworgy of NBC News and the National Journal.

"Governor Ehrlich's father wandered past your pooler's table prior to the senator's remarks and he bragged that McCain had held two mealtime events - one for breakfast and one for dinner this evening - which were both limited to 12 couples and cost $70,000 per couple," Aigner-Treworgy wrote. "According to Ehrlich Sr., one of the attendees at this evening's dinner was Art Modell, owner of the Baltimore Ravens. It is unclear when the breakfast was or if it took place at all. But the rumor mill has begun."

I called Bob Ehrlich Sr., who said he'd heard talk of the high-dollar dinner and happened to spot Mr. Modell. But he said he never passed that on to the media.

"I never spoke to a reporter," Bob Senior said. "None."

Strike that. He did chat briefly with Nitkin. "I said, 'Hello, David. How's the kids?'" But that was it, he said.

Greg Massoni, spokesman for the other Bob Ehrlich, said the reporter must have overheard Bob Senior speaking confidentially to someone else.

"They got a scoop from a 70-plus father talking to friends," Massoni said. "Kind of pathetic. ... He knows a lot of folks, and the one thing he said was he didn't speak to anyone he didn't know."

Aigner-Treworgy stuck by his story.

"He came up and leaned up on the table and talked to me and the reporter from Bloomberg," he said. "He had just heard rumors about these fundraisers. 'Why would anyone pay $70,000 for dinner?' He was bragging about it."

Aigner-Treworgy said there was "an outside chance" that Ehrlich Senior didn't realize he and the other people tapping away on laptops along the banquet hall wall were reporters. But, he said, "We were all wearing press credentials."

She thinks he's smart, patriotic - and tall

If Mrs. Modell came away from the whole thing hungry, she was more than satisfied with McCain. She wouldn't say much about what was discussed at the table - "obvious things, oil, everything," was all she'd say - but she let on that she was impressed.

"He's up on everything. He's very bright. I was delighted with that. You can see that he really loves America, that feeling. I like that because I like America, too. A lot."

That, and he's not short.

"What I couldn't get over was how tall he was," she said. "On television he looks so short. He's, like, five nine. You'd think he's, like, five six or something. But he's tall and trim and very handsome."

For the other diners, you just have to guess

Who else was at the dinner? The names have been a tightly guarded secret. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Modell was saying. I'm told Governor Ehrlich and members of McCain's Maryland finance team, Dick Hug and Elaine Pevenstein, were there. No big surprise since their names were on the invite. A source divulged one other diner: developer Selvin Passen, a retired doctor who has run marinas in Canton, including Baltimore Marine Center and the adjacent shipyard marina. Passen's office confirmed that he'd attended a McCain event Tuesday, though not the dinner specifically. Passen did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday. His office said he was traveling yesterday.

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