Posted: Jan. 28, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

State election officials have closed an inquiry into an unusually high-dollar amount of un-itemized contributions reported by Karen Weldin Stewart, a Democratic candidate for insurance commissioner, now that she has produced supporting bank records.

Stewart caught the attention of election officials last week when she filed a 2003 campaign finance report showing $65,920 in total contributions, the bulk of which was $63,370 in small-dollar donations of $100 or less that do not have to be listed individually under state law.

The report raised questions about how much she had collected and how she collected it.

In response, Stewart sent computer printouts showing a balance of $61,418 as of Jan. 24 in an account for "Delawareans for Karen Weldin Stewart," a campaign treasury that has been active since May 2000 when Stewart, a Wilmington insurance consultant, ran for insurance commissioner the last time the office was on the ballot.

Frank B. Calio, the state elections commissioner, said the printouts were enough to end the inquiry because he does not have the right under state law to require more information about the source of un-itemized contributions.

"The money's in the bank. The way the law is, I can't question it," Calio said. "This would suffice. We consider the case closed."

Even though Calio did not seek additional documentation, Stewart offered more backup records during an interview Wednesday with Delaware Grapevine.

Stewart had a representative booklet of yellow, carbon-copy deposit tickets for May and June 2003, showing numerous deposits. For example, there were 21 checks ranging from $25 to $100 in a May 13 deposit for $1,200 and eight checks ranging from $25 to $50 in a May 20 deposit for $345.

"We were targeting little checks. We figured we would start early and ask for $50. It wasn't that strange of a thing to do because I just didn't think I'd get the [maximum] $1,200 or $1,000 checks," Stewart said.

The 2004 election for insurance commissioner is the wild card on the statewide ballot because it is the only one without an incumbent running. Insurance Commissioner Donna Lee Williams, a three-term Republican, stunned the political set earlier this month when she declared she would not seek re-election, and her party has yet to settle on a replacement. On the Democratic side, Wilmington lawyer Matthew P. Denn is a candidate, along with Stewart.

Stewart says her small-dollar contributions are coming from a 5,000-name mailing list, which she also brought to the Grapevine interview. She said it was assembled from 30 years of fund raising for Democrats and charities, from her classmates growing up in Claymont and from the contacts she made as the president of the International Association of Insurance Receivers and as a workshop leader for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

She said she had assistance computerizing the mailing list from Roger D. Blevins III, a former Democratic Party worker once known for his technology skills but currently under indictment for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s campaign treasury.

"I've been fund raising since the '70s," Stewart said. "I don't have anything to hide."