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Franchot returns illegal funding

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ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Comptroller Peter Franchot has returned $54,000 in campaign contributions from a Hollywood movie mogul who violated Maryland campaign-finance law shortly before the November 2006 elections, a campaign official said yesterday.

Franchot campaign manager Tim Daly said the comptroller held fundraisers on Nov. 29 and Dec. 12. The events were reported to the State Board of Elections for the period covering Nov. 22 to Jan. 9.

In October, the Maryland state prosecutor fined movie producer James G. Robinson $119,000 for making excessive campaign contributions to Mr. Franchot, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, all Democrats.

Mr. Robinson, a Baltimore native, is the sole stockholder of 20 corporations, which made the contributions. Contributions by two or more corporations owned by the same stockholder are considered to be made by one contributor under Maryland campaign-finance law.

An individual is limited to contributing $4,000 to a candidate and a total limit of $10,000 for a gubernatorial election cycle in Maryland. The same limits apply to a corporation.

In addition to the donations to Mr. Franchot, Mr. Robinson gave $34,000 to Mr. O'Malley and $58,000 to Mr. Brown.

Mr. O'Malley and Mr. Brown returned the campaign contributions months ago, after learning the contributions were in violation of state law.

But Mr. Franchot, who was saddled with campaign debt, had trouble repaying the money. Mr. Daly said raising money more than three years from the next election is especially challenging.

"It was a lot of legwork and effort that needed to be put in," he said.

When Mr. Robinson was fined, state prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh described it as one of the largest levied in Maryland for violating campaign-finance laws.

Prosecutors said criminal prosecutions were not warranted because there was insufficient evidence to conclude Mr. Robinson intentionally violated the law. He made the contributions between Oct. 6 and Oct. 23, 2006.

Mr. Robinson is chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Creek Productions, Morgan Creek International, the Morgan Creek Music Group and other companies. He was the producer of "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "The Good Shepherd."

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