Theodore G. Venetoulis, still $50,000 in debt from his unsuccessful primary bid to become governor of Maryland, has asked his remaining creditors to forgive all & or part of his debts "as a contribution in kind" to the campaign.
In a "Dear Friends" letter to scores of creditors, the political committee of Democrate Venetoulis said, it "earnestly invites you to assist us by (a) forgiving the entire balance due you. . . (b) forgiving a portion of the balance. . . or (c) making a contribution directly to the committee."
Willard B. Amos, a Baltimore accountant who was Venetoulis' treasurer, said, "We haven't gotten letters back, but so far the telephone response has been very favorable." Amos estimated the effort has thus far reduced the campaign debt by $10,000.
The Venetoulis campaign spent about $600,000 while raising only $550,000, and, under the law, a campaign committee must continue filing reports until outstanding debts are paid off.
Venetoulis had a post-election fund-raiser in Baltimore Dec. 4 that raised about $5,000, according to Amos, and another one is being planned.
Willard A. Morris, Maryland's administrator of election laws, said candidates ofter have sought forgiveness from creditors. However, he noted, the forgiviness of campaign debts can raise legal questions if a creditor forgives a debt of more than $1,000. There is a $1,000 limit on individual campaign contributions in Maryland.
Under a 1977 opinion from the Maryland attorney general's office, he said, the forgiven amount is not considered a contribution if the candidate "persuades the debtor to compromise the debt" and the "ultimate compromise or settlement indicates an arms length transaction and the making of a reasonable business decision."
Amos said that with two exceptions all Venetoulis campaign debts are in the $200 to $300 range. As for the others, Amos said, "We're not going to violate the law. We've bent over backwards since day one not to do anything illegal."