Maryland's suspended governor, Marvin Mandel, is obligated to disclose contributions to his legal defense fund from lobbyists and persons doing business with the state if he can obtain their names from the fund's trustees, according to a state board.
"It's implicit that (Mandel) ought to at least make a request of the trustees to get the information," said William Walsh, chairman of Maryland's Public Disclosure Advisory Board, which issued the opinion. "I would think he'd go at least that far."
If the trstees refuse to divulge the names, Walsh said, Mandel's official obligation to disclose the gifts ends. The board did not rule on the rights of the trustees to withhold the data, concluding that "only a court can ultimately determine" that question.
The fund was set up by Mandel's friends to help pay his legal fees for his two political corruption trials this year. Mandel has refused to reveal names of the donors, maintaining that the gifts were placed in a blind trust and he does not know the donors.
After Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering charges in August, it was reported that the defense fund had reached $300,000. At least one state regulator was found to have solicited funds from the businesses he regulated.
Two of the fund's three trustees said yesterday they have not discussed the board's opinion with the suspended governor since it was released Nov. 30, and one trustee said he would refer Mandel to the fund's lawyer before revealing the names of donors.
"The great majority of people would probably care less if we gave their names," said Hotsy I. Alpertein, a trustee. "But we're going to protect those who want to remain nonymous. It's a blind trust and people gave money with the idea that it was a blind trust."
While concluding that the trustees' obligations to reveal the names of contributors to Mandel will have to be determined in court, the board said the state's financial Disclosure Act or public officials "makes no exceptions for blind trusts."
The board was set up four years ago to advise public officials how to comply with the act, which requires the disclosure of each gift worth more than $50 from a lobbyist or person doing more than $10,000 a year in business with the state.
Mandel requested the board opinion last spring and contested an earlier board ruling at a closed hearing in October, Walsh said. The ruling released Nov. 30 is nearly indentical with the earlier one, according to the board chairman.
Mandel could not be reached for comment yesterday. It is clear from the opinion, however, that he disagreed with the need to disclose the names of donors. Mandel told the board, according to the ruling, that the trust was created to "shield" him from names of donors.
According to the board's regulations, requests by public officials for opinions and the final rulings are kept confidential. The Mandel ruling was released to The Washington Post, however, because The Post asked for an opinion and the board is allowed to release rulings sought by nonofficials.
In the opinion, the five-member panel said that even though Mandel does not directly receive the contributions to his defense fund, he set up the trust fund and "the contributions were to be used for his benefit . . ."
Even though Mandel says he does not know who has contributed to the fund, the board continued, "if (Mandel) knows or is able to discover the required information, the information must be reported on the official's disclosure statement for that year."
Mandel has stressed in the past that he has no knowledge of the donors, pointing out a clause of the trust agreement in which he waives any right he may have to any accounting by the trustees, as to receipts and as to disbursement."
While holding that the waiver is "contrary to the policy" of the state's disclosure law, the board said it is not clear whether the trustees would have to divulge the names of donors if Mandel set aside the waiver.