Posted: Jan. 22, 2004; updated: Jan. 23, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The 2003 campaign finance report filed this week by Karen Weldin Stewart, a Democratic candidate for insurance commissioner, has caught the attention of state election officials because of an unusually high-dollar amount in un-itemized contributions.

Stewart reported that she collected a total of $65,920 -- including $63,370 in contributions of $100 or less.

Under Delaware law, small donations of that size do not have to be listed individually and instead may be reported in a lump sum. Contributions between $100 and $1,200, the maximum for statewide candidates, have to be itemized.

Stewart's filing raises questions about how much she collected and how she collected it.

"It popped out at us," said Frank B. Calio, the state elections commissioner. "We don't usually see something like that."

Stewart, a Wilmington insurance consultant, was the Democrats' 2000 nominee for insurance commissioner. After messages asking for comment were left for her Thursday, she telephoned Friday at 7:30 a.m. to reply.

 She said she raised the un-itemized contributions from a mailing list of 5,000 names, although she was not sure how many people sent her money. She said they donated in small amounts because they did not want to be identified publicly.

"People don't want their names to be seen," Stewart said. "Some of them work for the Insurance Department. Some of them work for consumer groups."

Calio said he will send Stewart a letter, giving her a week to account for the un-itemized contributions. If she says it is a mistake, Calio said he will accept an amended report, but if she does not respond, he said he will turn the matter over to the Attorney General's Office to investigate.

Filing a false election report is a crime, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,300 fine, according to the Attorney General's Office.

In the 30 years the election law has been on the books, only one candidate has been prosecuted and convicted for violating it. As part of a corruption investigation into New Castle County politics, Susan C. Holmes, a Democrat who ran for County Council president in 1988, was sentenced to six months in jail but transferred to work release after six days.

Campaign finance reports, covering candidates' contributions and expenditures for 2003, were due to be filed or postmarked by Tuesday, and Stewart's report was received Wednesday. It was one of three reports in what has been a surprisingly lively race for the staid and often overlooked office of insurance commissioner.

On the Republican side, three-term incumbent Donna Lee Williams turned in her campaign records as the law requires, even though she delivered a bombshell announcement earlier this month that she would not seek re-election. Republicans have yet to settle on another candidate.

On the Democratic side, Matthew P. Denn, a Wilmington lawyer who was counsel to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, also submitted a report.

The filings from Williams and Denn were markedly different from Stewart's.

Williams listed $93,388 in total contributions with only $3,488 un-itemized. Denn had $123,048 in total contributions and itemized them all -- even $9 each from a Wilmington couple. Williams reported about 170 contributors and Denn about 315.

Stewart would need more than 600 contributors for her total in un-itemized money. She was known to hold at least one fund-raiser in June at $50 a ticket.

Calio was not the only Delaware officeholder Stewart was to hear from. Also Thursday, the office of U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. asked her to remove a reference to him from her campaign Web site. It is a quotation from Biden, a fellow Democrat, saying he supports her candidacy, but the Web site at does not disclose that the quotation is from four years ago when Stewart was the nominee.

"Sen. Biden hasn't endorsed anybody in the race. He has a very longstanding policy of not getting involved in primaries, and it [the quotation] could be misconstrued," said Margaret Aitken, the senator's press secretary.

Stewart said the Web site has not been updated in four years, and she would comply with Biden's request. "I guess I'm going to have to," she said.

Biden's quotation was highlighted in red. For Stewart, however, this has not exactly been a red-letter day.