Money and Mooney: A question of values

GOP challenger accuses senator of accepting tainted donations

Friday, Aug. 18, 2006

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Gazette file photo
Alexander X. Mooney of Urbana has raised more money than any state senator except Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

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Gazette file photo
Sens. Alexander X. Mooney of Urbana and Brian E. Frosh of Bethesda confer during the final hours of the 2006 legislative session. Mooney has more money in his campaign coffers than Frosh and other state senators, except for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

Sen. Alexander X. Mooney has taken in $1.6 million in campaign contributions since 1998, with more than $18,000 of it coming from disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and some of his associates.

The two-term senator’s fund-raising prowess is surpassed only by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who has raised $2.1 million during the same time.

Earlier this year, Mooney (R-Dist. 3) of Urbana refused to return a $1,000 contribution from Abramoff, a decision that spurred his GOP primary challenger, Timothy Brooks, to question his finances.

And Brooks has problems not just with Abramoff-related donations, but also with Mooney taking contributions from sources that appear to contradict the senator’s self-avowed Christian values.

Mooney has been among the state legislature’s most outspoken lawmakers on same-sex marriage, gay rights, abortion, gun control and gambling. He used a common profanity to describe Brooks’ accusation as a ‘‘nonissue.”

Yet he has accepted nearly $10,000 from such gambling interests as Rickman Firstfield Associates and Ocean Downs LLC, both owned by William Rickman, and John Barr of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, according to a Gazette search of campaign finance records. Rickman, who operates slot machines at a Delaware racetrack and who has lobbied vigorously for legalizing slots in Maryland, and members of Rickman’s family have given money to many lawmakers.

Mooney also has taken money from tobacco and liquor companies. Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Lorillard Co. and the Smokeless Tobacco Co. donated a total of $1,550, according to The Gazette’s search, while such liquor interests as Maryland Beer Wholesalers, Brass Balls and Brown-Forman, one of the world’s largest wine and spirits companies, have given him $3,250.

In addition, five companies that favor organized labor and support diversity in the workplace, including sexual orientation, are among Mooney’s indirect donors, according to a 2004 report by the Center for Political Accountability. One of the companies even received the Plumed Warrior Visionary Award by the National Latina⁄o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization. These companies gave money to Americans for a Republican Majority, a group that was the focus of the Texas grand jury that indicted former U.S. House Majority Leader Thomas D. DeLay (R-Texas) on campaign finance violations in September. ARM, in turn, donated money to a handful of organizations and two individuals, including Mooney, according to the report.

‘‘What does it matter where the money comes from?” Mooney asked. ‘‘What matters is how you vote.”

He pointed out that more than 19,000 people and businesses have sent him money since 1998, a good deal of it in small checks. He called Brooks a ‘‘crazy guy” who ‘‘likes to see his name in print.”

‘‘I thought he would attack viciously, but I didn’t know for sure. I still don’t think he is a serious candidate,” Mooney said.

Brooks, a former Marine, takes exception to the ‘‘crazy guy” remark, saying that he guarded the president at Camp David during his years of service, passing multiple security clearances and psychological tests.

‘‘They don’t let crazy people guard the president with guns, but plenty of crazies get elected to political office,” he said.

Longtime adversaries

The men have a well-documented adversarial relationship that dates from 2004, when Brooks asked to run on Mooney’s 2006 slate. Mooney turned him down, and says Brooks has been harassing him ever since, including cursing him and giving him the finger at a Republican function two years ago.

Mooney asked Frederick Republican Central Committee Chairman Chuck Jenkins to remove Brooks from the committee, but Jenkins said that couldn’t be done without an impeachment process.

‘‘The situation between those two is a reflection of the individuals, not the party,” Jenkins said.

‘‘He keeps running for office and doesn’t win,” Mooney said of Brooks. ‘‘He has no one working the polls, he can’t raise money and he wanted me to put him on my slate in 2006 and I said, ‘No, you are not a good candidate.’ The guy’s a crazy.”

In turn, Brooks contends that Mooney is just trying to divert attention from the real issues, including what Brooks characterizes as a dismal record during his two terms of office.

Mooney said his donors, no matter where they live, believe in his stands on abortion, gay marriage, gun control and tax reform. And whether they are from out of state or live in his district, they do not expect any favors.

‘‘People like to see a pro-life guy anywhere. When a baby is killed, it doesn’t matter if it is in Maryland or Canada. If homosexuals are marrying in Massachusetts, it sets a bad example for the whole country. If guns are banned in Maryland, it affects people across the country and taxes affect the constitutional rights of all Americans,” he said.

Mooney’s decision to keep the Abramoff donation prompted Brooks and Frederick County Republican Central Committee member Phil Greene to spend months researching Mooney’s campaign donations.

They said they found a web of relationships linking Mooney to Abramoff and some of his associates. ‘‘It reads like a who’s who involved in that scandal, every one of them,” Brooks said. ‘‘There is no getting around it — he can’t deny he knows these people.”

Brooks said the connections reveal ‘‘questionable ethics and questionable judgment” on Mooney’s part.

Mooney dismisses Brooks as a ‘‘conspiracy theorist,” denying any personal relationship with Abramoff.

However, a Gazette review of Mooney’s campaign finance records does show that the senator received more than $18,000 from Abramoff clients, as well as organizations and people connected to the lobbyist, between 1999 and 2006.

Two men connected to Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Edwin A. Buckham, held fund-raisers in their homes for Mooney in the past year and donated to his campaign. Buckham is DeLay’s former chief of staff. DeLay resigned in April.

Norquist heads the nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform. The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs released a report on June 22, saying that Abramoff directed clients to pay money through the Americans for Tax Reform to obscure the source of the funds.

Buckham founded the nonprofit U.S. Family Network, an organization whose $3 million in revenues came mostly from Abramoff’s clients. Buckham and his wife were paid more than $1 million from USFN via their lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group.

The records also show that Mooney accepted money from Abramoff partner Michael Scanlon, who pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, and from David Safavian, who was convicted on federal charges of making false statements and obstructing investigations into his association with Abramoff, while he was chief of staff for the General Services Administration.

Mooney said the money he received from the men amounts to a drop in the bucket compared to all his campaign funds. His connections with them have been legitimate and are not personal, he said.

Buckham, who lives in Yellow Springs in Frederick County, is a constituent whom Mooney said he met through U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R) in 1993, while Norquist’s organization deemed him a ‘‘hero of the taxpayer” for signing a 1998 pledge not to raise taxes. Mooney is what he calls the ‘‘taxpayer protection caucus chairman for Maryland,” who enforces the pledge he and others signed with Norquist’s group.

Money counts

Mooney is so good at drumming up dollars that video and audio tapes of him giving fund-raising tips are available online through Campaign Tips and the Leadership Institute, part of the National Journalism Center, where he works as executive director.

His fund-raising also surpasses that of top Republicans, including Minority Whip Sen. Andrew P. Harris, whose contributions since 1998 total $968,684, and Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Dist. 38) of Westover, with $409,571 raised since 1998.

In the last election cycle, Mooney wound up with $800,912 in contributions and borrowed $40,000 to beat Del. Sue C. Hecht (D), who raised $345,256, making it the most expensive state Senate race in Maryland history.

Hecht said she knew she could never raise the kind of money that her opponent did. Money is ‘‘extremely important” in any political race, she said, because it buys access to media and constituents.

‘‘It is getting harder to make one-on-one connections with people because a large segment of the population is just not home when you go door to door,” she said.

Spending seven figures in a state Senate race is a sad commentary on politics in general, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda, who has raised $407,139.05 since 1998.

‘‘The influence of money on politics is not a happy thing. Money strengthens the ties between the monied interests and the legislators,” Frosh said. ‘‘You are not supposed to be beholden to anyone, but the more money it takes to get elected, the worse the influence on the legislator.”

The presumed Democratic opponent in the general election, Candy Greenway, who is running unopposed in the primary, said she, too, has been asking questions about Mooney’s money.

‘‘Alex likes to accuse his opponents of all the scandalous behavior he has been involved in for years,” she said. ‘‘I don’t believe Mr. Mooney’s ‘traditional family values’ include the principles of honesty and forthrightness.”

But Mooney said his philosophy is to acquire contributions from a variety of different sources, so as to dilute the one person’s or group’s influence — allowing him to vote his conscience.

Raising cash is critical to both his ability to win and to stay true to his principles, Mooney said. ‘‘The moment you take it [being an incumbent] for granted, you become vulnerable as a candidate,” he said.