By Lori Wolfgang, Jennifer Castelli and Peter Brush
ANNAPOLIS – Of the $4.8 million contributed to Parris N. Glendening’s record-breaking $6 million gubernatorial campaign, 62 percent came in chunks greater than $1,000, a computer analysis shows.
And 47 percent of the total donated came from PACs, unions and businesses, according to a Capital News Service study of data assembled by Common Cause Maryland, a non-profit government watchdog group.
“The large percentage of businesses giving large campaign contributions affirms the belief that they drive the electoral process,” said Deborah Povich, the group’s executive director.
But Emily Smith, Glendening’s campaign manager, said that the governor is not influenced by the size of a contribution. “The small contributions are just as important to us, even though they take longer to add up,” Smith said.
Glendening did not return several telephone calls requesting an interview.
Campaign finance records at the State Administrative Board of Election Laws are not computerized. With hundreds of paper records, it is difficult to search for donors or to find connections among them. However, a computer can sort the same records by surname or by address in seconds.
Common Cause built its database from the paper records, identifying donors as a business when the distinction was obvious. Donors identified by name only were designated as individuals. PACs, or political action committees organized by special interests, are clearly identified as such in the records.
Of PAC, business and union contributions to Glendening’s campaign for governor, 74 percent were in sums greater than $1,000. About half the individual contributions were in sums of $1,000 or more, and half in lesser amounts.
Povich said she was not surprised by the concentration of special interest money. Businesses have more resources than individuals, she said, and can afford to give larger sums.
She argues that candidates are driven by the system to seek large contributions, and that these large contributions generally come from special interests.
Special interests then “have access to the decision makers not available to the general public,” Povich said, adding that this leaves individuals out of the political process and ultimately “has a negative impact on democracy.”
Smith disagreed, noting that Glendening did not specifically seek special interest money. And she added that she was “very certain that he doesn’t make decisions based on contributors.”
Some donors said they weren’t seeking influence when they gave to Glendening’s campaign, but wanted to back a winner.
Real estate executive Mario VillaSanta, president of the Baltimore-based V-3 Group, Inc., said his $5,000 contribution went to Glendening because he thought he was the best candidate.
“I supported him because I thought he would win, and for once I was right,” VillaSanta said. He doesn’t think his contribution necessarily helped put Glendening in office, adding that other candidates would not have won had he given them the same amount.
The Health Policy Leadership Alliance, a political action committee which represents the Maryland Hospital Association, gave Glendening $5,500.
Denise Matricciani, assistant vice president of government relations, said the PAC’s board interviews candidates and decides whom to support based on their positions. She said the board also considers which candidate is likely to win.
Nancy Fiedler, spokesperson for the PAC, said the Hospital Association did not expect to gain influence with its contribution, but sought only to put into office individuals who understand and are supportive of health care issues.
Povich, of Common Cause, pointed out that the actual donations of some businesses remain unknown because there are legal ways to circumvent funding limits.
For example, Common Cause found that Ceres Terminals Inc., a New Jersey-based firm, and its subsidiaries Ceres Marine Terminals Inc., Ceres Gulf Inc. and Cerescope Inc., gave contributions totalling $17,500. State election law prohibits any one individual or business from contributing more than $4,000 to a single candidate in a four-year election cycle. However, since the Ceres businesses are legally separate, they could collectively donate more than the limit.
In its analysis, Capital News Service found that the Driggs Corp., a Capitol Heights non-union construction firm, gave two contributions totalling $3,700 to Glendening. John Driggs Co. Inc., a union construction company located at the same Capitol Heights address, gave an additional $500.
In addition to the business contributions, John Driggs, owner and president of the firm, gave Glendening two contributions totalling $1,200. His wife, Joanna, gave $4,000. Their son Jeffrey, a vice president in the Driggs Corp., gave two contributions totalling $4,300 — $300 more than the legal limit. Ralph S. Goldin, who was a vice president but is no longer with the company, according to a spokeswoman, gave $200.
The total of contributions traced by computer either to the Driggs family or its businesses at the Capital Heights address was $13,900.
Jeffrey Driggs said in an interview that he did not know there was a limit on individual contributions.
Povich favors public funding, arguing that it encourages smaller contributions and gives individuals more influence in the electoral process.
GOP nominee Ellen Sauerbrey accepted about $1 million of public funding and, with it, a legal spending limit of $1 million in each of the primary and general elections.
She received $195,983 from special interests — 12 percent of the $1.6 million she raised, according to Common Cause. That is in sharp contrast to the 47 percent share of such contributions in Glendening’s total.
Common Cause found that the average individual contribution to the Glendening campaign was $344, while the average individual contribution to Sauerbrey was only $129.
Donations of $3,000 or more accounted for 30 percent of Glendening’s total contributions and only 3 percent of Sauerbrey’s, the organization found.
Sauerbrey spent $1.7 million — 28 percent of Glendening’s spending — but lost the general election by only 5,993 votes out of 1.4 million cast.
From Sauerbrey’s experience, Povich said that “many public officials and the public saw that public funding can work….It’s important to establish a method of public funding to limit large contributions.”
The 1995 General Assembly passed legislation to expand the public funding system and reduce the influence of special interests and lobbyists.
Under the new system, taxpayers could contribute up to $500 to a campaign fund through a check-off on state income tax forms, double the present $250 maximum. Candidates choosing to participate would face a $1.5 million spending limit in each of the primary and general elections.
The legislation also frees political parties to participate in publicly funded campaigns. In the 1994 elections, party contributions counted toward a candidate’s spending limit. The revised system exempts party contributions from the spending limit. However, political parties can donate no more than $10,000 to all campaigns during a four-year election cycle.
“The legislation should make public funding even more attractive to candidates,” Povich said. Glendening is expected to sign the legislation, according to Bonnie Kirkland, his legislative director. -30-