ANNAPOLIS -- Big money continued to flash its political power in Maryland over the last four years as PACs pumped money into the hands of incumbent lawmakers at a pace 71 percent higher than four years ago, according to a report released yesterday by Maryland Common Cause.
Overall, Maryland's 250 political action committees contributed $3 million to General Assembly candidates during the 1990 election, with incumbents receiving $2.4 million of the total.
The money always comes with strings attached, according to Phil Andrews, executive director of Common Cause in Maryland.
"It's naive to think candidates don't know what money is at stake when they vote" on bills, he said. An officeholder must recognize, he said, that the money he gets could go to an opponent.
Mr. Andrews said he had a renewed hope this year that General Assembly leaders would finally push for stricter campaign finance laws. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, have announced their support for a package of "reform" bills, not yet specified.
"We're hopeful it will be a strong package," Mr. Andrews said. He said Common Cause wanted a limit of $3,000 on PAC contributions to individual candidates but would accept $4,000.
The organization also supports a bill, now pending in the Senate, that would prohibit a candidate from accepting more than 30 percent or $12,500 -- whichever is greater -- from all PACs combined.
During the 1986 election cycle, seven contributions from PACs exceeded $4,000. In the 1990 cycle, there were 43 contributions of $4,000 or more, Common Cause reported.
"It's important to put a cap on PAC contributions before they explode," Mr. Andrews said.
In 1986, a winning candidate for the Maryland state Senate spent an average of $61,759 on his campaign. By 1990, the average had risen to $94,946, Common Cause said. Mr. Andrews observed that the average was somewhat inflated because Mr. Miller -- one of the prime sponsors of reform -- spent more than $220,000, far more than his colleagues.
The average cost of a successful run for the House of Delegates rose from $29,745 to $39,986.
Next to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who raised $309,863 from PACs, Senate President Miller was the master of PACs among legislators, with a total of $100,773. The next closest legislator was former Sen. Frank J. Komenda, a Prince George's Democrat, who raised $61,100 in a losing cause.
Mr. Andrews said Common Cause continued to worry about the impact of money on the lawmaking process: "Large campaign contributions . . . guarantee access to legislators, result in undue influence for the PAC and foment legislative dependence on special interest money."
The following 10 political action committees were the leading contributors to state election campaigns during the last election cycle, 1986-1990:
1. Legal MD (lawyers) $253,920
2. Realtors PAC Maryland 239,566
3. Medical PAC Maryland (doctors) 223,461
4. GOP Senate-House Committee 89,900
5. MARPAC Dental PAC MD (dentists) 80,229
6. Citizens Rights PAC (trial lawyers) 67,207
7. ABC of MD (builders & contractors) 63,899
Build PAC (building unions) 62,671
9. C&P Maryland State PAC 59,583
10. Maryland PAC (business) 58,500
Source: Maryland Common Cause, 1990 Campaign Money Report