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Loophole Bolsters Duncan's War Chest

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page B01

Fourteen business entities controlled by the same family contributed at least $56,000 to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan on the same day this month, employing a controversial loophole in the state's campaign finance law.

Duncan (D) received 14 checks of $4,000 Jan. 11 from businesses controlled by or affiliated with the Gudelsky Co., a real estate and development firm, according to campaign finance reports released last week.

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The contributions, made just prior to the 2005 filing deadline, account for a significant part of the $741,000 that Duncan raised over the past year for a possible gubernatorial campaign.

Maryland law bars individuals and corporations from contributing more than $4,000 to any candidate in a four-year cycle. In what some legislators call a significant loophole, however, corporations can exceed that cap by establishing limited liability partnerships or other affiliates to make contributions.

Duncan declined to comment. Kate Sheckells, his political director, said: "Doug is asking people for their support and to do whatever they can to be helpful. We are playing by the rules as they exist today."

Critics said that such "bundling" of contributions violates the spirit of the law.

"A voter can't go into a voting booth and vote 14 different times. So a company shouldn't be able to give 14 times the legal limit through different entities," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, which is hoping to enact legislation in Annapolis this spring to change the law.

The $4,000 checks that Duncan received Jan. 11 were sent from the same Silver Spring address. The donations came from different corporate names, such as Gudelsky Associates I and II, the Contee Co., Percontee Inc. and H&M Gudelsky CDD Growth. Gudelsky company officials and family members did not return several calls seeking comment.

The Gudelsky family has been prominent in Montgomery real estate and development for decades.

In 1960, the Gudelsky Co. built Wheaton Plaza. More recently, the family has been known for its philanthropy, including large donations to Montgomery College.

ABC Building Limited Partnership, which is controlled by developer John Gudelsky, also donated $4,000 to Montgomery County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) during the past year. John Gudelsky also made an individual $4,000 contribution to Silverman.

ABC Building Limited Partnership was one of the entities that gave Duncan $4,000 this month. Although John Gudelsky didn't contribute to Duncan in the past year, his mother, Martha Gudelsky, has donated $2,000 to the county executive since 2003, according to campaign finance reports.

"The Gudelskys are a wonderful, charitable family," Silverman said, adding, "When they like you, they really like you."

This is not the first time Duncan has accepted large contributions from multiple businesses controlled by the same family.

Last year, the Baltimore Sun reported that Francis O. Day III, a Rockville developer, donated $75,000 to Duncan through family members and about a dozen companies controlled by Day.

Other Maryland politicians have received similar contributions. The donations have led to an effort in Annapolis to toughen campaign finance laws to prevent multiple contributions from the corporations or individual.

"When the limitations on corporate contributions were put into law years ago, there was a reason for that . . . so one corporation could not contribute in an overly influential way," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard), a sponsor of the legislation.

The legislation passed the House of Delegates each of the past two years but died in a Senate committee. Bobo and Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) said they plan to reintroduce the legislation this year.

Bobo said candidates should not wait for the law to be changed before they no longer accept bundled contributions.

"I think candidates bear some responsibility," Bobo said. "There is obviously nothing illegal about accepting it, but it is not where I like to see the balance of our leaders' contributions coming from."

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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