During the 1990 election, political action committees in Maryland contributed $3 million to candidates; $2.4 million of that to incumbents. Among the top recipients were Governor Schaefer, who received $309,863 ($45,700 from the state's builders and contractors alone) and Senate President Mike Miller, who collected $100,773. Sen. Frank Komenda was third, with $61,100. And so on. Suffice it to say PACs are strong and growing; last year's contributions were up 71 percent from four years ago.
While these gifts don't buy votes outright, at the very least they buy access and influence, which erodes the democratic process. This year, again, Maryland will try to clean up its act. A group of senators has proposed a reform bill with a $3,000 limit on PAC contributions to any single candidate. In addition, Miller and House Speaker Clay Mitchell are expected to come up with a plan for stricter campaign finance laws that will in part mirror last year's bill, which included an $8,000 PAC limit.
Both would be an improvement over the current state of things, which is that there are no PAC limits in Maryland at all. But neither goes far enough. George Bush offered the best way out of the PAC morass in his State of the Union address: "The time has come to put the national interest above the special interest -- and totally eliminate political action committees."