Groups such as paving contractors and real estate developers took advantage of permissive language in Maryland's campaign finance law to donate $1.6 million to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and his allies on the County Council, according to a report to be released today.
That represents nearly 60 percent of all contributions to those candidates, according to numbers compiled by Neighbors for a Better Montgomery. The group, which backed several council candidates defeated by Duncan's "End Gridlock" slate, decried the infusion of cash from development interests.
"In reality, the campaign was the opposite of End Gridlock," said Drew Powell, who heads the Neighbors group's research committee. "What creates the gridlock is more and more unsustainable development. And these are the people who kicked in two out of every three dollars of the End Gridlock campaign."
Duncan (D) said it's no secret that development interests contributed to his campaign and to those of his County Council allies. But he said all of the donors, developers included, sought the same outcome he did: traffic relief.
"What I can tell you is, 100 percent of my contributions came from people who wanted to solve traffic congestion," Duncan said.
Duncan's effort to use campaign funds to rebuild the council with members who support his transportation initiatives was the first of its kind in Montgomery politics. The End Gridlock treasury financed a barrage of negative mailings and phone calls aimed at unseating those who opposed his program.
The display of political muscle has drawn intense scrutiny from Duncan's political opponents, many of whom are now championing reforms that would prevent the use of such tactics again.
Members of the Neighbors group undertook their massive review of campaign finance records this year. They said they were concerned about what they found.
Dan Tuten, a group member, said, "It's disturbing because these companies are pouring money into local races without any accountability."
The Neighbors group used state campaign finance records to show how firms donated through different corporate entities to give well in excess of the $10,000 limit on gifts during a four-year election cycle.
The lists show how one firm, Oxbridge Development, donated $127,000 to 73 candidates and political action committees in the last election cycle -- including $22,750 to Duncan and $22,600 to council contenders.
Neighbors found that each of six affiliates of a local paving contractor, F.O. Day Co., gave $1,000 to Duncan and $700 to the candidates Duncan supported for the County Council, while Day family members and company employees gave Duncan an additional $16,750.
Lawyers in the law firm that handles much of the land-use business in Montgomery County, Linowes and Blocher, contributed a combined $66,900 to local candidates, according to Neighbors.
Joseph P. Blocher, a senior partner with the law firm, said the gifts were not part of an organized effort to bundle contributions to specific politicians. "We have a strict policy," Blocher said. "You support whomever you want to support."
But members of Neighbors for a Better Montgomery said the gifts have a cumulative effect, orchestrated or not. Said Tuten: "The development industry and its allies 'bought' the 2002 election."
This is a conclusion that Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Rich Parsons finds "completely at odds with reality."
"This is just sour grapes," said Parsons, who noted that Neighbors tried to raise money for its favored candidates in the same manner.
David Weaver, a Duncan aide, noted that the county executive backed a fee increase last year that would raise $10 million a year directly from developers.
Neighbors will post its findings on the Internet today at www.neighborspac.org, two days in advance of hearings in Annapolis to discuss legislation to tighten state limits on campaign contributions.