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As Long as We Remember...

July 30, 2002

Sweet Sue and the Tip Jars, Remember?

Lee Marshall

There's one thing Del. Sue Hecht (D.,3rd) doesn't want anyone to bring up in this election - so we will. Remember the tip jar brouhaha that she instigated about five years ago? If any member of the Elks, Moose, the Owls, or any of the veteran's organizations remembers it, they will vote for a yellow dog before they'll draw an arrow to her name. She was, and may still be, their worst nightmare!

It all started because Sweet Sue was upset that some of the taverns downtown weren't raising much money to support her own charity organization, Heartly House, which aids abused spouses and does a pretty good job of it. However, it must depend on contributions and grants to maintain its level of service.

The result of Sweet Sue's shortsighted campaign was that every group in the county which hawks tip jars suddenly found itself in the cross hairs of the Internal Revenue Service. Her Clintonian political contacts created a monster. The impact for some groups was that it took more than a year of audits and legal scrutiny before they received a clean bill of financial health.

Several local taverns on Broadway agreed to sell tip jars and share the proceeds with Heartly House, but there wasn't a large pot to share. It was a different story at organizations, which have their own in-house, private bars and kitchen service. Patrons of these clubs raise large amounts of money for their own charitable efforts through the sale of tip jars to members and a limited number of guests.

Tip jars are a legal form of gambling in these closed venues. Patrons purchase tickets containing imprinted numbers. A number of cash prizes (from $1 to $499) are guaranteed in each set of cards. There are several sizes and varieties of card sets. A county license is required before these may be offered for sale.

If you play bingo at one of these volunteer organizations, you've probably been offered the chance to purchase these tickets, but always inside the particular club's premises. It is a controlled atmosphere.

Sweet Sue decided one way she could help Heartly House was if Frederick County adopted the same management as Washington County, which has seen revenue from tip jars drop dramatically. Every group in our western neighbor 's jurisdiction must consolidate all earnings into one pot, which then is dispersed by the county - in its wisdom.

Washington County effectively took away any incentive for the private organizations to support charities to which they have been dedicated for many years, and charities that fall directly in its national charters. Patrons are now less inclined to play the jars.

Sweet Sue prevailed on her buddies, including Commissioner David Gray, to support her effort to have Frederick County adopt the same technique. The backlash was so great that commissioners backed out of it. It was obvious that Sweet Sue's interest was not in any group other than Heartly House.

But she railed on to so such a degree that she got the IRS interested in the affairs of these private clubs. Some had operated for many years with "social members," those who were invited to enjoy the amenities of the private organizations despite the fact that they could not be legal members.

There aren't many "social members" left in these clubs. The IRS called for audits of each veteran's organization in the county, conducting detailed audits of financial books. They also scrutinized membership rosters and even questioned the DD 214s, a form received by veterans at time of separation from the Armed Forces. That form verifies military service and thus eligibility to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), AMVETS, and The American Legion.

Other eligible members of the veterans groups include those who are the spouses of, or sons or daughters of veterans. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, the Moose, the Owls and like groups are invitation only organizations. However, like the veterans organizations, the latter all have "homes" containing private bars and restaurants. Tip jars are a way of life for supporting their scholarship programs, youth groups like scouting and sports teams, and a variety of community groups, including Heartly House.

All of a sudden IRS auditors are living in local hotels and giving fits to local presidents/-commanders and their treasurers, all because Sweet Sue thought she had the power to make everyone else support her favorite charity and jump to her command.

Voters may recall her votes in the past four years, which have helped the Glendening and Kennedy Townsend administration drain our pocketbooks and take us down the primrose path to far-left liberal governance. Sweet Sue hopes the patrons of these private organizations, voters all, forget that she started the financial and membership ruckus.

These volunteer clubs survived the assault with few admonitions. The IRS went away quietly. We've heard no more on the issue and tip jar sales are brisk. If you want to know what they do with the money, you see lots of scholarship presentations pictured in the Daily Bugle, money raised and distributed privately by these clubs.

Heartly House deserves all the support we can give it through voluntary donations, not government mandated charity.

Sweet Sue neither helped Heartly House nor any of the volunteer organizations, which are the lifeblood of Frederick city and county. It was a hurtful effort. We suspect that reveals the political correctness she would show as a state senator, much as she has done as a delegate.

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