An 82-year-old Baltimore County real estate developer has quietly become one of the top donors in local politics, giving more than $1.3 million to candidates around the region over the past dozen years, a Banner analysis of campaign finance records shows.

In this cycle, John “Jack” Luetkemeyer Jr., has directed $300,000 — his biggest single effort to date — to a super PAC supporting Sheila Dixon for Baltimore mayor. Before that, the registered Republican poured $125,000 in an unsuccessful bid to help the GOP win the hard-fought 2020 U.S. Senate race in Georgia.

Though his local giving has skewed toward Democrats, in federal races he has given almost exclusively to Republican candidates, including Nikki Haley during this year’s primary.

A lifelong Marylander who lives in Ruxton in Baltimore County, Luetkemeyer got an early start in city politics before shifting to real estate, with a portfolio reportedly valued in 2019 at $1.5 billion. He is the father of Emmy-winning “Modern Family” star Julie Bowen.

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Luetkemeyer has given tens of millions to schools and civic institutions through a family foundation, including $50 million to the McDonogh School alone.

His financial support for Dixon dates to 2007, and she said she speaks to him “maybe once a month, or every couple months or so.” Though he and family were early supporters of Brandon Scott, a more progressive candidate, they are now heavily backing Dixon and two of her closest allies — Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates and City Councilman Eric Costello.

“Jack is an individual, a business person who is committed to the city and wants what’s best for the city. He doesn’t have an expectation where you have to do something for him,” Dixon said. “He’s putting his resources in the city because he wants the best people, the best leaders.”

Luetkemeyer did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, nor did many others in his circle.

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‘A real lack of leadership’ in the city

With a little more than a month to go until the 2018 Democratic primary, Luetkemeyer issued a call to other prominent business leaders to back Bates for Baltimore’s top prosecutor.

“There seems to be a real lack of leadership in all areas of the City,” he wrote in an email co-signed by former Legg Mason CEO Mark Fetting, warning of “further degradation of the City and its wonderful institutions.”

He and his family members had given max contributions totaling $36,000 to Bates, he said, and he urged the others to follow suit: “The easy way out is to let someone else do the work and show no leadership.”

Politics and business run in Luetkemeyer’s blood. His father was the CEO and chairman of the banking giant Equitable and a veteran of Democratic party politics, elected by the state General Assembly to serve as state treasurer for a decade starting in 1963.

Luetkemeyer himself got involved in politics at age 26, serving as a campaign treasurer for Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alessandro III, William Donald Schaefer and Hyman Pressman, all Democrats, in 1967. The Evening Sun wrote at the time that D’Alessandro had “raided the Republican party” by making the pick, and then-political columnist Lou Panos said that some wondered if his father had converted him to the Democratic Party. “Not so, says John Jr.,” Panos wrote.

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D’Alessandro appointed him city treasurer — a part-time position that no longer exists — while he continued to serve as an Equitable executive, forming a father-son team in fiscal public service.

Despite being affiliated with Schaefer, Luetkemeyer approached Bob Embry in 1971 when the then-housing commissioner announced he was running for mayor.

“He came to me, unsolicited, and said he’d like to support my campaign and contribute to it and help raise money — which I thought was strange. I was long a shot,” Embry recalled. “He said he thought I would be the best person for the job.”

After his father fell ill, both would step down from their treasurer posts, with news accounts at the time saying the younger Luetkemeyer cited the need to tend to expanded business responsibilities.

He transitioned to real estate, joining J. Mark Schapiro’s Continental Realty Corp. By 1979, he was a 50 percent partner. The two men — Schapiro and Luetkemeyer — “did everything on a handshake,” Schapiro’s son and current CEO JM Schapiro told the Baltimore Business Journal in 2019. Schapiro did not return messages seeking comment.

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Luetkemeyer helped finance some of developer David Cordish’s earliest projects, and built millions of square feet of industrial, office and retail space and apartment developments in the Baltimore suburbs. The company expanded into movie theaters — at one point owning 50 percent of all screens in the metro area — and fast food restaurants. The Baltimore Sun in 1996 described Continental’s holdings as a “series of profitable but unorthodox investments ventures.”

As the steward of the Rollins-Luetkemeyer Foundation, created in 1963 by a banking client of his father, Luetkemeyer has been involved in directing millions in donations annually to a wide range of causes. The foundation reports assets of $71 million in 2022, the most recent year for which financial disclosures are available. Baltimore Center Stage, Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the National Aquarium, and St. Frances Academy were among those receiving donations.

McDonogh has received by far the most, but its head of school would only refer to a general statement about the foundation when asked for comment about Luetkemeyer. One person who spoke to Luetkemeyer about McDonogh, who requested anonymity to discuss a private conversation, said that Luetkemeyer relayed that he and the school had a falling out because the school had “gone woke.”

He also helped found the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Southeast Baltimore.

“I think it’s amazing that he cares so much, selflessly, as far as I can tell and is so generous and so involved,” Embry said, noting that he gives to Baltimore causes even though he lives in Baltimore County.

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Local influence

Candidates who have received support from Luetkemeyer said he’s not the type to simply cut a check from afar.

In 2014, representatives of Walmart told Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins they wanted to vacate their anchor location in the Carroll Island Shopping Center in Bowleys Quarters and open a Super Wal-Mart up the road. The community supported the idea, but Bevins said the shopping center owner, David Cordish, “was pissed, just pissed,” Bevins recalled.

Jeff Beard, then a 56-year-old United Auto Workers shop chairman at GM’s Baltimore plant, said he feared the closure’s impact to the nearby community and began thinking about running for County Council in the upcoming election.

Beard said he agreed to a meeting with Luetkemeyer and a businessman, whom he declined to name, to discuss their mutual concern about keeping the Walmart where it was.

“I made it perfectly clear that I wasn’t going to owe anybody anything if I were to win. They were OK with that,” Beard recalled. “They said we’re looking for a person that’s willing to run, that we feel strongly will help the community.”

“Now mind you at this time, I had no idea how much money we’re talking about.”

Records show LLCs connected to Luetkemeyer and Cordish plowed $220,000 into Beard’s campaign for the Democratic primary, which otherwise ran on donations of $10 and $50, and set him up with a consultant to help get his message out.

Still, Bevins won handily.

“It was not money well spent,” she said, though Walmart ultimately scrapped its plans to move. Cordish did not respond to requests for comment.

Like many high-dollar contributors, Luetkemeyer works around contribution limits by giving along with family members and through associated limited liability corporations.

The Banner analyzed compiled contributions by searching the campaign finance database for names and addresses connected to Luetkemeyer.

In local races, he’s given mostly to Democrats: he gave at least $20,000 to Gov. Wes Moore; over the years he’s given at least $23,000 to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. Former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz received at least $39,500; former Attorney General Doug Gansler received at least $37,000.

Supporting Republicans

On the Republican side, he gave at least $30,000 to former Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh, $28,000 to Baltimore County Del. Ryan Nawrocki, and $25,000 to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks. He gave a $6,000 to gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, and $10,000 to Gov. Larry Hogan’s inaugural committee.

Former City Council President Bernard C. Jack Young, a Democrat, received at least $36,500 from Luetkemeyer and LLCs associated with Continental development projects between 2007 and 2019.

“He doesn’t ask you for anything — he’s got everything [already],” Young quipped. “He just supports candidates he believes are going to be good for the city and the state.”

Young said Luetkemeyer was “interested in good government,” such as reducing “red tape that slows development.” But Young said Luetkemeyer never pushed him on specific projects.

In national politics, he gave to presidential candidates Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney and most recently Nikki Haley, though in 2020 he gave $5,000 to Democratic hopeful Tom Steyer.

He pumped $125,000 into the effort for Republicans to win U.S. Senate seats in Georgia in 2020, giving to incumbent David Perdue, challenger Kelly Loeffler, the National Republican Senate Committee, and PACs called New Mission Leadership and Senate Georgia Battleground Fund. But he also gave $6,000 to Democrat Mark Kelly in the Arizona Senate race that year.

Jaime Lennon, Ruppersberger’s spokeswoman, said Luetkemeyer had been a supporter of the Baltimore County Democrat when he was in county elected positions and once in 2004 after he was elected to Congress. But when the Affordable Care Act was coming up for a vote, Luetkemeyer told Ruppersberger that if he voted yes, he would no longer support him.

“It’s unfortunate that he lost the support of someone he considered a good friend,” Lennon said. “But Dutch respected the fact that he came in, spoke his truth and drew a line in the sand. He gives him credit for sticking to his principles.”

He has since contributed to at least three Republicans who challenged Ruppersberger: Nancy Jacobs, Pat McDonough and Nicolee Ambrose.

Mayoral elections

Luetkemeyer’s largest contribution is $300,000 — $100,000 submitted last year, and $200,000 this year — made to Better Baltimore, a political action committee supporting Dixon for mayor. David Smith, the conservative Sinclair chairman and Baltimore Sun owner, kicked in $200,000, while a recent $25,000 contribution came from Darielle Linehan, founder of The Ivy bookshop and wife of venture capitalist Earl Linehan. The PAC has aired attack ads against Scott labeling him: “nice guy, bad mayor.”

Under campaign finance rules, political action committees are forbidden from coordinating with candidates.

He loaned Bates’ campaigns a total of $250,000 in his two quests for state’s attorney, which records show the candidate paid back.

Individuals giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates in Baltimore elections is rare but not unheard of. Former T. Rowe Price executive Mary Miller gave a super PAC supporting Bates a whopping $436,000 in 2022. The late Orioles owner Peter Angelos gave nearly $300,000 to City Councilman Carl Stokes in the 2016 mayor’s race. Labor unions also gave six figures to pro- and anti-Dixon PACs in 2016.

Although Dixon has been Luetkemeyer’s primary beneficiary this campaign cycle, his previous contributions in mayoral elections ran the gamut. He gave $27,500 to a PAC supporting Embry’s daughter, Elizabeth, in the 2016 mayor’s race, and donated $1,000 that year to Dixon through an LLC.

His contributions were over the map in the 2020 race. Early donations went to Scott — his family and two LLCs gave $36,000 in late 2019. Then, in January 2020, two LLCs gave a total of $4,000 to Dixon. In April, two LLCs gave $6,000 to candidate Mary Miller, and in May a $25,000 contribution to a PAC supporting Miller helped fund ads targeting candidate Thiru Vignarajah.

After Scott won the primary, Luektemeyer’s wife and three daughters gave max contributions to his general election opponent, then-Independent Bob Wallace.

Scott said there was no falling out or conversation with Luetkemeyer about the shift in support.

Annie Luetkemeyer, a physician and infectious disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and Molly Luetkemeyer, an interior designer in Los Angeles, did not return messages seeking comment.

Luetkemeyer recently threw his financial support behind City Councilman Eric Costello, who has served since 2014. Costello, a Democrat, said he was asked to meet with Luetkemeyer at his North Baltimore office around 2018, by a mutual contact who described Luetkemeyer as someone who “cares about the city.” He said Luetkemeyer asked his opinion on various candidates, as well as his role and the role of others on the council.

Since then, Luetkemeyer has sought Costello’s assistance in his efforts to help the East Baltimore sports powerhouse St. Frances Academy build a football field.

This election cycle, Luetkemeyer and his family directed at least $42,000 in maximum donations to Costello’s campaign. And Costello stepped out early in the mayor’s race to support Luetkemeyer’s preferred candidate, Dixon.

Costello said there was no quid pro quo: “We’re of like mind” in choosing Dixon for mayor, Costello said.

This article has been updated to reflect former mayoral candidate Mary Miller’s correct prior employment.

Banner reporters Emily Sullivan and Brenda Wintrode and data editor Ryan Little contributed to this article.

Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries.

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