MARYLAND PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES
Momentum Builds for Regents Bill
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Frustrated by a series of ethics inquiries involving the board that oversees Maryland's public universities, lawmakers are pushing ahead with legislation to prohibit members of the Board of Regents from political fundraising.
The measure, which could come up for a House committee vote as early as today, has support from dozens of delegates, including House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), and from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), a university booster.
The proposal has unmistakable political overtones: One regent, Richard E. Hug, serves as finance chairman for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s reelection campaign and has helped solicit sizable political contributions for GOP candidates and the state party from a longtime university donor.
Another, Robert L. Pevenstein, is married to a top Ehrlich aide, whose off-hour duties include logistics for the governor's fundraisers. A third, board Chairman David H. Nevins, has thrown fundraisers for Ehrlich and has run up enough personal contributions to politicians from both parties to surpass the state's $10,000 giving limit, which Nevins attributes to a bookkeeping error.
Hug said yesterday that he is surprised his fundraising activities have become a target of legislation and said his contacts have helped the University System of Maryland.
"I was Bob Ehrlich's finance chairman long before I was appointed to the Board of Regents," said Hug, who joined the board in March 2003. "I went through two Senate confirmation hearings. They were well aware of that. I'm surprised that has come up as an issue."
But Democrats said they believe Hug's dual responsibilities leave him with divided loyalties and enable him to scout the university system's donor lists for political contributions.
They point in one instance to his solicitation in 2004 of John M. Gregory, a former chairman of King Pharmaceuticals, who has for many years been one of the most prolific donors to the university's School of Pharmacy in Baltimore. He has made annual gifts, which were never publicized, totaling $5.8 million to the school since 2000, said Sue Gladhill, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
Hug said he solicited political gifts from Gregory; state and party records show the donor gave a total of $275,000 to the Maryland Republican Party and a combined $8,000 to Ehrlich and Steele. Those included two $90,000 contributions, the largest single amount given to the party in the past seven years, according to state records.
Gregory, a graduate of the pharmacy school, lives in Bristol, Tenn., and has not contributed to any other Maryland races. He did not return messages left with his aides yesterday.
Hug said he did not want to comment on his efforts with Gregory, other than to say: "John Gregory has been a friend of the university for many years. He has been very generous."
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said the situation is awkward for the university.