Gaming panel says political gifts aren't tip jar charity

February 19, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE and GUY FLETCHERs

Gaming panel says political gifts aren't tip jar charity

When the Boonsboro American Legion hosted a political meeting for state Del. D. Bruce Poole and state Sen. Donald F. Munson last year, the club counted it as a $132 gift to charity under the Washington County tip jar law.

But political gifts are not supposed to count as charitable donations, according to Washington County Gaming Commission Director Kathy Sterling.

Three Democratic organizations also were incorrectly counted as charities, Gaming Commission records show.

Three American Legions and Washington County AMVETS gave a total of $1,598 to political organizations - the South County Democratic Club, Democratic Central Committee and Democratic Club of Williamsport.

In the last four months, the clubs' charitable contributions have been scrutinized by accountants hired by the Gaming Commission for $14,800.


An amendment to the tip jar law proposed last week would take away the private clubs' control over such donations.

Clubs would be required to give 15 percent of their tip jar profits to the county gaming commission, which distributes the money to the fire and rescue association and local charities.

Now, the clubs are required to give half of the required 15 percent - or 7.5 percent - to the gaming commission for distribution and the other half to charities of their choice. Their own donations can include cash or in-kind contributions like letting a charity use a meeting room.

Opposing the amendment was Munson, R-Washington, and Poole, D-Washington, who argued that the clubs deserve to keep some control over the donations.

Both Munson and Poole were listed as recipients of the $132 in-kind donation from the Boonsboro American Legion in February 1997.

The donation was for a community forum they held a year ago at the Boonsboro American Legion hall. The forum was held to give them an opportunity to hear comments and concerns from residents about state issues.

Poole and Munson said the amount listed for the donation seems fair because the forum lasted a couple of hours and the legion served refreshments to 150 to 200 area residents. A Herald-Mail story that ran the next day estimated that 65 people attended.

Poole said the donation cannot be construed as being used for political purposes because it was not a campaign rally.

Both he and Munson said the legion was providing a community service by offering the room space.

"As a practical matter, when you get into South County, where else do you meet?" Munson said.

But under guidelines adopted by the Washington County Commissioners, clubs can get credit for allowing legitimate charities to use their facilities.

Harold Miller, treasurer of the Boonsboro American Legion, said the club didn't realize it was breaking the rules by counting a legislators' meeting and meetings of the South County Democratic Club as in-kind donations.

"I think it should be included," he said.

Despite the ruling, the club will continue to host community meetings. The club just won't get credit for an in-kind contribution, he said.

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