By ANJU KAUR, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Some 40 Maryland students are part of a national trend under media scrutiny: They gave high-dollar donations to political candidates at a tender age.
Among the 42 Maryland students who made political contributions to federal campaigns, four gave Hillary Clinton a total of $12,800 in the first nine months of this year, according to the Federal Election Commission. Another 20 students gave Barack Obama $33,150, including children from Potomac who were just 7- and 8-years-old.
Their father, real-estate developer and inventor Aris Mardirossian, told the Washington Post in October that his extended family contributed about $50,000 to the Illinois senator so far. He, his wife and children each donated the maximum, $4,600, for Obama's primary and general campaigns.
According to FEC rules, minors may make campaign contributions as long as it is their money, not given to them for the purpose of making a contribution, and is donated knowingly and voluntarily.
The younger the minor, the harder it is to comply with the "knowingly and voluntarily" part of the rules, and the greater the concern for what the FEC calls "conduit contributions," whereby parents, for example, use children to pass additional money to candidates.
And because age information is not required to file donations of $200 or more with the FEC, minors get lumped with all individuals who designate "student" as their occupation.
The Mardirossian children were among 27 Maryland students who donated in the four-figure range. That's $59,705 of the total $67,122 in federal donations from students this year as of Sept. 30.
Nationally, more than 1,900 students gave almost $3.6 million to federal candidates. But more than $3.2 million of that money came from nearly 1,175 students who donated at least $1,000 each, records show.
Students have donated big money before, but the number and amount of student donations nationally has already surpassed the 2004 election cycle, said Massie Ritsch, communications director at The Center for Responsive Politics.
"Probably what's happening is that parents have maxed out on their contributions and are funneling money through their kids," Ritsch said. "If a corporation did this it would be illegal and it would be prosecuted, but within a family, it's overlooked."
Presidential candidates are not the only ones benefiting from the student donor trend.
Of the six students who contributed to Maryland congressional candidates, three of them, who gave $1,000 apiece to Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, are siblings: Max, Mark and Jennifer Meltzer. They are the children of Alan Meltzer, chief executive of the insurance brokerage firm, The Meltzer Group, in Bethesda. He and his wife, Amy, together gave $8,000 to Van Hollen.
The fourth Van Hollen donor, Christina Whang, also gave $1,000. She is the daughter of James Whang, chief executive of Advance Engineering and Planning Corp. of Rockville. He and his wife, Haibin, together gave $4,000 to Van Hollen.
Alan Meltzer and James Whang could not be reached for comment about their children's ages or their donations.
The trend perplexes Mark Lopez, a youth voter research director at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy in College Park.
"It sounds really unusual," Lopez said. "Our nationwide surveys show that very few young people donate money. The only explanation is that parents are giving money in their children's names," he said.
Kate Hudkins, 23, may be an exception. As a student at Goucher College in Towson, Hudkins said her contribution to Clinton came from money she earned working part-time as a graphics designer.
"I am not a typical student," Hudkins said. "Most students contribute by volunteering because they can't afford to give money."
But when Hudkins' father, Brian, invited her to meet the New York senator at a fundraiser, she dished out $2,300 to attend the event. It was her first political contribution, which she said was a "good career move."