Maryland Acting Gov. Blair Lee III chose a commissioner to regulate state banks earlier this year on the strong recommendation of leading bankers who contributed heavily and were instrumental in raising tens of thousands of dollars for Lee's campaign.
Lee did not go beyond a small circle of these bankers when seeking candidates for the job of regulating state banks. He ended up limiting his search to their recommendation, W. H. Holden Gibbs, who was appointed March 16.
Gibbs strongest support came from H. Furlong Baldwin, the chairman of Lee's $300,000 April fund-riser. He and other bankers contributed or raised large sums from their employes, customers, directors of their banks, associated law firms and related financial institutions.
"There was no quid pro quo in it," Lee said Friday night in defense of the Gibbs selection. "You have to find a bank commissioner somewhere. It's not reasonable to go to the League of Women Voters for a recommendation on a banking commissioner."
About $25,000 in campaign contributions to Lee can be traced to Maryland's financial community. The total raised by the banking community, which had four members on the fund-raising committee could be higher.
Money raised through the financial community amounted to more than 8 percent of the total of $300,000 raised at Lee's April fund-raiser.
In a state that now limits individuals and corporate campaign contributions to $1,000 per candidate, the financial community ranks high among special interest groups giving to the Lee campaign, according to a study of contributor lists by The Washington Post.
More than 120 bankers, lawyers whose firms represent banks, investment counselors and insurance executives made contributions from $50 to $1,000 each. Althought the names of Baltimore banks dominate the list, the largest single amount came from individuals connected with the Hyattsville-based Suburban Trust Co., whose board chairman, William B. Wheeler, grew up with Lee in Silver Spring.
The generous flow of campaign funds from the financial world to Lee contrasts with negligible amounts given his closest competitor, Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis, and to his predecessor, suspended Gov. Marvin Mandel.
For the bankers and associated interests, the Lee campaign represents a reentry into Maryland political fund-raising after more than a decade of dominance by race track, development, liquor and other special interests.
"I made a rather direct pitch" to the financial community, Lee said, "and told them they had quite a few years ago become leaders in that particular activity (political fund-raising), then yielded to race track people and soured on the whole thing, and it was time to come back."
Lee said he contacted banker Baldwin for advice on filling the $34,800-a-year post of bank commissioner - a job that entails careful scrutiny of banks with the power to remove directors and officers for unsound practices and to grant or deny approval for branches throughout the state.
"I told (Baldwin) the vacancy was coming up, would he scout around and see if there was someone competent to do the job . . . I asked Baldy first. He told me about Gibbs . . . I think he mentioned several people, but Gibbs was the first one I looked into and he seemed suffcient."
Baldwin, in a telephone interview Friday, said, "I didn't recommend him. I was asked. I said he was an excellent choice. The governor asked me about him at one point." Gibbs, 46, worked for Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co., the bank Baldwin heads, from 1961 to 1972.
Lee said Gibbs was also highly recommended by the heads of Suburban Trust Co., Citizens Bank of Maryland and Union Trust Co., where Gibbs last worked before his job was "phased out" three weeks before his selection as bank commissioner.
Gibbs, several months before his appointment, was being considered for the post of deputy bank commissioner but did not get it. That selection was up to William L. Wilson, Gibbs' predecessor, who, according to Lee, was "not very enthusiastic" about Gibbs' nomination to the top slot.
Gibbs said he is "sure" the bankers "helped me get" the commissioner's job, but "I owe my job to the governor and that's all . . . I'm not here to protect the industry. I'm here to see it's regulated properly in the public interest . . ." "I don't deny I'm friends with the majority of (bankers) in Maryland and like all of them," Gibbs said. "They're delighted to have someone in here who they can call and who will understand their problems . . .It just wouldn't occur to them to lean on me."
It is not unprecedented for a Maryland governor to consult members of an industry in the selection of its regulators. Mandel generally consulted race track figures before choosing racing commissioners.
Lee noted that a two-year-old-law requires the bank commissioner to have at least five years' experience running or regulating banks. "It forces you to at least get some initial clues to where people can be found" from the bankers the commissioner must regulate, he said.
"If you're going to have brain surgery, you don't want a plumber," said William K. Weaver, executive vice president of the Maryland Bankers Association. As chief banking lobbyist in Annapolis, Weaver took credit for the 1976 law changing the job requirements.
A few days after the Gibbs appointment, Lee received a dozen letters from pleased bankers, including fund-raiser Baldwin, who said the selection "will reflect favorably on the gentlemen who supported him. The individuals who have considerable interest in this appointment are all most appreciative."
Baldwin and J. Stevenson Peck, Gibbs' former exployer at Union Trust Co., were prime movers in raising money through the intricate Maryland financial network, whose members often serve on the same boards, belong to the same country clubs and live in the same communities.
"This is the first time I've been chairman of something this size," said Baldwin, referring to the April fund-raisers. "In this particular case, I figured my role was just to get people who would (sell tickets). I didn't sell 3,000 tickets by myself." The price of each ticket was $100.
Baldwin acknowledged asking a partner at the law firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard - which handles legal work for Baldwin's bank - to sell tickets for Lee's fund-raiser, a large affair held at the Baltimore Civic Center. And, individual lawyers at the firm purchased $2,000 worth of tickets.
Baldwin also said he solicited bank customers and the Baltimore investment house of Alex Brown & Sons, which does business with Mercantile, Baldwin's bank. Eleven members of the investment firm contributed $1,300 for the event.
"I always give to Ivy Leaguers," said Robert G. Merrick Jr., a partner at Alex Brown, expressing the sentiment of many members of the financial community who feel affinity with the patrician Lee. "I played lacrosse for six years withe Furlong Baldwin. If Baldy asks me to give $100 to Blair Lee (a Princeton graduate), done."
Peck, the head of Union Trust who actively supported the Gibbs appointment, said he also solicited bank customers and the law firm of Weinberg and Green, which does work for the bank. Members of that firm contributed $2,500, mostly in $100 contributions. No other law firm in Maryland has contributed as much.
Banking contributions, representing both individual bankers and, in some cases, their close relatives or their institution, include $5,900 from Suburban Trust, $3,600 from Mercantile, $1,600 from First National Bank of Maryland, $1,550 from Equitable Trust Co., $500 each from Citizens Bank of Maryland and the District's Riggs Bank and $400 from Union Trust.
The Maryland Bankers Association Political Action Committee, which Furlong Baldwin heads, contributed $500 to the Lee campaign.
Baldwin personally contributed $1,000. Wheeler of Suburban Trust is listed as contributing $900. Alred H. Smith, the head of Citizens Bank who was consulted on the Gibbs appointment, contributed $500. Also contributing $100 was Gibbs.
Also contributing to this story were Washington Post speccial correspondents Joe Calderone and Chris Schauble.