The House of Delegates has approved two unprecedented measures that would restrict the influence political action committees and lobbyists have on state elections.
By a vote of 133-1, the House passed a bill yesterday that would set a $4,000 cap on the amount a PAC can give to a candidate during a four-year election cycle. Under current law, there are no caps on how much a PAC can donate to a candidate's election fund.
The bill also would increase from $2,000 to $5,000 the amount an individual can give to a campaign. Not since 1970 has the limit on individual contributions been raised.
Another bill, which won unanimous House approval, would require lobbyists to report all gifts and meals worth more than $10 given to lawmakers.
The two measures, which now go to the Senate, were sponsored by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Eastern Shore. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, sponsored two companion bills in the Senate.
Before it was amended in committee, the House bill would have set an $8,000 cap on PAC contributions. The limit was lowered after a majority of House members signed a letter to the committee recommending the lower limit.
Yesterday's House action was "a very important step forward in campaign reform," said Phil Andrews, executive director of Maryland Common Cause, a citizens' lobbying group.
Andrews said the vote to cap PAC contributions was the first time the House passed such legislation. A similar bill was considered in 1984, but was defeated after lawmakers greeted it with "a great deal of scorn," said Andrews.
The sole delegate voting against the bill said the proposed cap would only cause PACs to look to their members for additional contributions once the cap had been met.
"Once they hit that limit, they'll have individuals give the money," said Del. W. Ray Huff, D-Anne Arundel. "This is not a disclosure bill because, if there were no limitations on PACs, you'd know where all the money was coming from. I believe in disclosure, but I don't believe in limits."
Andrews disagreed. "The limits are reasonable, so most PACs won't resort to playing shell games," he said.
Andrews predicted that a battle will erupt in the Senate over the $4,000 PAC ceiling and that supporters will fight to keep it.
Andrews said the Senate ought to pass the House versions of the two bills so that the legislature "can send a message to the public that the General Assembly runs the General Assembly and that special interests don't."