Correction to This Article
A March 21 Metro article about former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel incorrectly described a portrait he donated to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. The portrait depicts Mandel and his wife, not just Mandel. Mandel said the portrait was completed in 1977 and hung in his house, not his garage, before being donated last fall.

Mandel Back in Unpleasant Spotlight

Former governor Marvin Mandel says his lobbying does not conflict with his position as a Maryland university regent.
Former governor Marvin Mandel says his lobbying does not conflict with his position as a Maryland university regent. (By Gail Burton -- Associated Press)
By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Last fall, top state leaders gathered in the sunroom of the Maryland governor's mansion to toast former governor Marvin Mandel and celebrate the hanging of his portrait -- a painting that spent decades collecting dust in his garage after his 1977 conviction on mail fraud charges.

But even as Mandel's close friendship with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is helping to rehabilitate him as a force in Annapolis, the 85-year-old Democrat's name is back in the news in a way that has political veterans cringing.

Mandel, in his third year on the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, testified before a legislative committee this year on behalf of an alcoholic beverage association and registered on behalf of an insurance industry group. Those actions appear to be in direct violation of a 1999 law that prohibits regents from lobbying.

Mandel said the news reports, which first appeared in the Baltimore Sun, characterized behavior that was perfectly legal.

"At the time I became a regent, that [rule] was not told to us," Mandel said in an interview yesterday. "If it had been, I could have been exempted . . . because I was representing them before I became a member of the board."

The University System policy makes no provision for exemptions.

A three-member panel of regents is investigating the board chairman, David H. Nevins, on similar allegations -- that he ran afoul of the strict ban on lobbying. Now, lawmakers said, they expect Mandel to become the subject of an additional probe. And many believe a strong statement is needed from the General Assembly to rescue the Board of Regents from another scandal.

"We've got to drag some dignity back to this board," said Del. Frank S. Turner (D-Howard), who oversees the University System's budget. Turner has sponsored a bill to prohibit board members from political fundraising.

In 2004, former chairman Nathan A. Chapman Jr. was sentenced to prison for defrauding the state pension fund and other offenses. Chapman's predecessor, Lance Billingsley, resigned after he was paid to help clients gain access to then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

In response to Billingsley's activities, legislation was enacted stating that regents "shall not, for compensation, assist or represent any party in any matter before the General Assembly."

For Mandel, this latest headache is something he could do without at age 85. "I've always been involved. I've never walked away," he said. "At the same time, where could there be a conflict of interest in my being a member of the Board of Regents and my being a representative of the wholesalers in the alcoholic beverage industry? It just doesn't make sense."

In January 1969, the General Assembly chose Mandel to succeed Spiro T. Agnew (R) as governor after Agnew became vice president. The state had no lieutenant governor at the time. Mandel easily won statewide elections as governor in 1970 and 1974.

In 1977, a jury convicted Mandel of mail fraud and racketeering, and he went to federal prison in 1980 when his appeals were exhausted. He was accused of using his influence to help friends who owned the Marlboro racetrack in Prince George's County in exchange for cash and gifts.

In November 1987, six years after his release from prison, a federal judge overturned the conviction.

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who helped Mandel win early release, also helped bring him into Ehrlich's inner circle. Just before the 2002 election, Ehrlich met Mandel for a well-publicized breakfast and later appointed him to a task force on streamlining government.

"He is, in terms of governing, an incredible resource, and he is dramatically involved," Bereano said in an interview last fall. "Water is long under the bridge."

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