Although the Manassas Democratic Committee has asked for an investigation into Clerk of the Court David C. Mabie's use of public property to solicit campaign contributions, Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert said yesterday that even if Mabie used business opportunities to lure contributions, it is unlikely he could have broken the law.

Committee Chairman William Briscoe sent a letter to Mabie, a Republican, on Monday in which he alleged that Mabie lured campaign contributions from two local banks by allowing the installation of an automated teller machine at the courthouse and by using the banks for the court's deposits. Briscoe pointed to $2,200 in contributions to Mabie's reelection campaign from F&M Bank and Security Bank Corp. and affiliates, saying that Mabie took the contributions in exchange for allowing F&M to install a courthouse ATM and for handling the court's lucrative accounts.

Mabie, however, said this week that such accusations are merely "political theater" aimed at hurting his bid for reelection just 21 days before voters go to the polls. Ebert said that even if Mabie's choices were "questionable," they would be protected by the state's conflict of interest statute, which explicitly exempts public officials who receive political contributions that are used for campaigns.

Briscoe has asked Ebert to investigate the matter, and although he had not received Briscoe's letter as of yesterday, Ebert said he would refer the issue to outside prosecutors to avoid "any appearance of impropriety." Ebert, a Democrat, has come out in support of Mabie's challenger, Joyce Sowards.

"To us, it just appears that there could be something," Briscoe said. "We're not making any accusations of wrongdoing, just that the existence of possible favoritism appears to be there."

Mabie characterized the allegations as "ridiculous," noting that F&M and Security Bank, which merged this year, made contributions to him last fall, when he announced his intention to run again. He said the court began its relationship with F&M nearly five years ago, when it won the business in competitive bidding with another local bank. Mabie said F&M offered the best interest rate for "the people's money" and offered services that other banks could not provide.

In addition to holding the court's $2 million to $3 million in deposits, F&M began offering ATM services at the courthouse three years ago, an enterprise that Mabie said increases "the probability of collecting the state's money" because it allows residents to get cash to pay fines. Mabie said he had to struggle to find a bank that would even consider putting an ATM in the courthouse basement.

"I tried for years to get any organization to put an ATM in here, and they all said it wouldn't be cost effective," Mabie said. "I finally asked F&M to do it, and they did, probably because we already have a contract with them. They have complained to me that the machine doesn't make any money. It's not there for Dave Mabie; it's in there to collect fines and costs."

Mabie said he keeps his personal accounts at Crestar Bank. The $2,200 in contributions account for 11 percent of the $20,000 he has raised for his campaign.