Steele's Ad Seemingly At Odds With Fundraising

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

In a recent commercial advertising his bid for U.S. Senate, Maryland Republican Michael S. Steele tells voters that his opponent, Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin, has been tainted by contributions from pharmaceutical companies and special interests.

"Congressman Cardin took money from drug companies," Steele says. "I want to ban gifts from special interests."

The ad does not mention that less than a week before the commercial began airing, a top drug company executive and an industry lobbyist hosted a $1,000-a-person fundraiser for Steele at a K Street steakhouse in Washington.

The invitation to the fundraiser, obtained by The Washington Post, says the Sept. 20 lunch reception was to be hosted by Sally Walsh, a director of federal government relations at GlaxoSmithKline, and Michael Carozza, a lobbyist for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

It advises donors to send contributions to lobbyist Frederick T. Dombo III, who identifies himself on his Web site as a Steele campaign volunteer. Federal records show that Dombo represents AmerisourceBergen Specialty Group, one of the largest pharmaceutical services companies in the country.

"I think, charitably, you'd have assume people will look at this and say this guy is being hypocritical," said Donald Norris, a political science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "How can he slam the other guy if he's doing the same thing?"

Neither Dombo nor Walsh returned calls to their offices. Carozza would not comment.

The Steele campaign rejects suggestions that it was hypocritical, pointing to a line in the ad that draws a key distinction between the candidates. "I support cheaper medicine from Canada," Steele says in the ad. Cardin took the money "and voted against cheaper medicine."

"One of these two candidates does not dance to the tune of Washington special interests, and it's Michael Steele," said Steele campaign spokesman Doug Heye.

The reimportation issue is significant to drug industry lobbyists, who vehemently oppose allowing U.S. citizens to purchase drugs from Canada. Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration has voiced safety concerns about reimportation. One of the lobbyists who attended the Steele fundraiser expressed surprise that Steele would run an ad supporting the policy.

The lobbyist said he and others had considerable concern about having donated to Steele, only to learn days later of his position. The lobbyist spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering Steele.

The lobbyist said Steele's campaign reassured him that his position was consistent with existing law. But Heye said that's not the case.

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