More than 10 high-ranking Maryland regulatory and law enforcement officials are selling tickets to a $100-a-plate fund-raising dinner designed to boost the gubernatorial campaign of state Attorney General Francis B. Burch, the attorney general said yesterday.
The officials, he acknowledged, include members of his attorney general staff, the state insurance commissioner, the state safety and corrections commissioner, the Baltimore police commissioner, one county liquor board members, and a member of the state lottery commission.
The practice, Burch declared, is an integral part of Maryland politics, common to all statewide races. "What the hell is politics about anyway? State officials and politicans have first amendment rights like everyone else.
"I'm pleased with what we've done," he added . . . If I can't count on my friends and the people I've worked with who can I count on?"
Burch, one of more than a half dozen Democrats jockeying for position in a crowded gubernatorial field, claimed all the officials who have bought or are selling tickets to his May 31 fund-raiser, called "a testimonial tribute," are acting on their own free will.
"I've told them I'd like your help, I'm running for governor, not dogcatcher, you know," he said.
He described most of the officials as longtime personal friends and political allies, who volunteered to help this campaign. Robert Lally, state commissioner of safety and corrections, for example, "wants to do anything he can to help me with the understanding that he isn't pressuring anyone to buy tickets," Burch said.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau "came up to me last week and said" what can I do to help you" Burch said. "Buy a ticket or two. I told him."
A spokesman for the Baltimore police department said last night that Pomerieau had purchased 10 tickets "for himself and his friends." Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Battglia bought five tickets, he said. The total cost for 10 tickets is $1,000, the cost for five is $500.
Pomerleau is not selling tickets, the spokesman said. "His position is and always has been that he's very apolitical."
Burch described Insurance Commissioner Edward J. Birrane Jr., who he said is also selling tickets, as a "longtime friend" who has been active in politics for years." "I told him I'd love to have him sell some tickets but I don't want you to go to "anyone you regulate."
Neither Birrane, who is the state's top insurance regulator, nor Lally, who oversees the state police force and its correctional institutions, could be reached for comment yesterday.
Burch's May 31 testimonial, one of a series of fund-raisers various gubernatorial candidates have scheduled this month, is considered crucial to the early stages of his campaign. He is hoping to raise more than $250,000 and by a show of financial muscle scare opponents out of the race.
"Everyone is wanting to get in firstest with the mostest," his campaign manager, Phil Altfeld, said yesterday. "It's our number one priority at this point. We know it will make other candidates evaluate their positions. If we do well, we'll come out strong. If we fall on our face we'll be in trouble."
Burch has been orchestrating the dinner for months, inviting the movers and shakers of Baltimore's political and financial community to his home and seeking their support.
In 1974, the Democratic ticket, of which Burch was a part, raised tens of theousands of dollars from tickets bought and sold by high-ranking Maryland government officials.
Gov. Marvin Mandel was running for re-election at that time. Mandel, cannot succeed himself. Burch and LT. Gov. Blair Lee III, two key members of Mandel's 1974, are among those vying for his office in the September, 1978, Democratic primary.
Burch said yesterday he sees nothing "illegal or sinister" about raising money from public officials. He said he plans to continue the practice.
"I'm not going to let you or anyone else set ethical standards for me," he said in an interview.
Among other state officials Burch named who have agreed to buy or sell blocks of tickets are: Hershel Pachino, a member of the state lottery commission, and Robert W. Furtick and Frank Cuccia, both members of the state racing commission.
None of the three could be reached for comment last night.
Nolan Rodgers, an assistant state attorney general, said he had agreed to buy several tickets but is not selling tickets to anyone else. "I plan to attend the dinner with my wife," he said." "I think Bill Burch has done an outstanding job as attorney general."
Under state law candidates for governor are not legally required to disclose the names of persons who have contributed to their campaigns until the week before the September, 1978, primary. Burch said, yesterday he does not plan to make a disclosure before he is legally required to do so.