Every time my name is discovered on the list of contributors to the gubernatorial campaign of Theodore G. Venetoulis it is circled in red ink, never in blue.
I am found on page 88 of Venetoulis' 158-page list of contributors, the third name from the top: "Elizabeth Becker, 1150 15th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071." That is the address of The Washington Post I am recorded as making a $15 contribution in the form of a check. It is traceable.
No one, it seems, has missed my name, buried though it is in the middle of the huge report. It leapt out at two Baltimore Sun reporters who were photo-copying the report the day it was filed. Notebook in hand, one came over to me demanding an explanation.
He asked, grinning, what is a Washington Post reporter doing making a contribution to the candidate she is covering?
My answer was predictable. The Washington Post is famous in Maryland reporting circles for its strict policy that reporters pay their own way, accepting no gifts, not even the food and liquor served at a political fundraiser. The joke the politicians tell is that The Post has a tighter ethics policy than the politicans, if that is a joke.
My $15 "contribution" was actually the cost for the gin and tonic, corn fritters, oysters and chocolate mousse I devoured at a Venetoulis fundraiser in the early summer. I had asked the manager of the restaurant where the event was held, what the price was and then had written out my check. The ticket price for the fundraiser was $100 - $15 to cover the food plus $85 as a campaign contribution.
My $15 check was cashed and my name listed as a contributor, not as a reporter simply paying for her dinner. I complained to Venetoulis and he laughed. Another joke.
He said his people were as meticulous as The Washington Post about money matters. Every check is recorded and publicly listed. His bookkeeping system is not sophisticated enough to list the reporters separately. Besides, he said, I was the only reporter who paid for the food at his fundraiser. The others accepted it as a freebie.
About one week later I received a mimeographed think-you letter from the Venetoulis headquarters with a personal P.S. at the bottom from Venetoulis. "I guess this has come full circle," he wrote. "We send out thank you letters to all our contributors."
I am adding a lot of humor to this campaign.
A running mate of one of Venetoulis' rivals pulled me aside one day and told me he had heard that I had contributed to Venetoulis' campaign. This time I laughed.
The stunner came this week. As I said, The Washington Post is extremely strict about reporters and money and keeping a distance from the stories reporters cover. One blemished reporter is a plague on the whole house.
In my mailbox I found a note from a copy aide who reported that an editor on another section of the newspaper had seen my name on the contribution list and asked for a copy of that page - page 88. That editor's supervisor was worried and called me into his office, closed the door and warned me that something was haywire.
I told him my story and got a chuckle. Since then, other Post reporters have told me how they have mistakenly appeared as contributors; to the Prince George's County Democratic Party, to national candidates.
No one can remember when The Post's strict policy started, whether it is pre- or post-Watergate. It just makes sense and I suspect in one way or another it will always make news.