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Duncan Campaign Aide Involved in School Deal

In an interview Thursday, Duncan said he does not support any overlap between county business and political fundraising. "You should not be asking people for contributions if you're negotiating with them," he said.

Community activists said the timing of the contributions raises concerns that the money was intended to influence county policy. "This is a very clear example of special interest money securing favors," said Duncan critic Drew Powell, executive director of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign contributions to local officials.

Powell was incredulous that such large overseas contributions could have gone unnoticed among Duncan's donations, as Duncan has asserted.

That Duncan was unaware of the fine print of his contributions is not unusual and says nothing about his strength as an executive, Arceneaux said. "It's not uncommon for campaign folks to be working on this and handling the campaign side without Duncan's input on a week-to-week basis," he said.

Perez said Pasternak's possible mixing of official and fundraising roles creates a perception problem. "The perception is there is some kind of quid pro quo involved," he said.

But council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large), who supported the school leases as chairman of the council's education committee, said Duncan and Pasternak had kept a clear demarcation between their political and official activities.

The $35,000 the campaign took in from Yeshiva supporters and the Abramoff-related companies in late July 1999 constituted a little more than a quarter of the $120,850 it collected that month. At the time, Duncan was six months into his second term as county executive.

The $120,850 he raised that July was the most he had collected in a single month since at least the beginning of 1997, according to campaign reports examined by The Post. That month's 71 itemized contributions were larger than normal; during June 1999, for example, the Duncan campaign raised $42,675 from nearly the same number of contributions.

Isiah Leggett, a former County Council member and a Democratic candidate for county executive, said he takes Duncan at his word that he was not aware of the donations and praised him for immediately pledging to return the money. But Leggett said he would have noticed an overseas contribution.

"I would know -- at least I would see the address," he said.

Montgomery residents who opposed the lease deals said the disclosure of the campaign contributions yesterday provided new insight into a situation they found puzzling at the time.

Ed Ferrigno, a member of the North Woodside Montgomery Hills Civic Association, was active in pressing for safeguards requiring greater public and official review of school reuse that were instituted after the Belt transaction. When Duncan and the council sought an exemption for Yeshiva soon after the safeguards were approved, he said, the group was "floored that they would reverse like that."

Ferrigno, a federal lobbyist, said he has no problem with local members of the Yeshiva board making political contributions.

"That's part of the system," he said. "But it certainly appears that a political contribution drove a decision to override sound public policy."

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, appears to have received no contributions from Abramoff-related entities, according to state campaign contribution records. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) returned $16,000 in contributions from Abramoff in January.

Staff writers Matthew Mosk, John Wagner and staff researcher Derek Willis contributed to this report.

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