ANNAPOLIS — In a competitive Carroll state Senate campaign last fall, Democrat Jeff Griffith benefited from his relationship with the governor to collect $7,500 in contributions.
Republican challenger Larry E. Haines profited from his business background to garner $6,300 from the Maryland Realtors Political Action Committee.
Both of those hefty contributions would have been outlawed under campaign finance reform legislation that passed the House Monday night.
The bill, sponsored by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, D-Kent, and about half the 141 delegates -- including Delegates Richard N.Dixon, D-Carroll, and Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard -- sets a$4,000 limit on the amount the treasurer of a candidate or PAC can contribute to a campaign during a four-year election cycle.
Currently, the state has no limits on PAC contributions and transfers from one candidate's treasury to another, leading to concerns that special interests wield too much influence in elections and votes on issues.
Another campaign reform bill that passed the House Monday tightensregulations for lobbyists. It would prohibit lobbyists fromraising money for candidates and office-holders and require them to report allgifts and meals worth more than $10 given to legislators or their representatives. The two Carroll delegates, along with the House speaker and half the legislative body, are listed as sponsors.
"We needed to change lobbyists' control over legislators," said Dixon. "These laws are a breath of fresh air for the people in this state. It's a tremendous step."
Similar reform efforts had been defeated the lastfew years, largely because Mitchell opposed them.
Dixon said he was disturbed to find that some lawmakers use the list of lobbyists they receive each session to mail them tickets for fund-raising eventsor request that they buy tickets -- in effect, seeking contributions from lobbyists.
"If a lobbyist buys $5,000 in tickets at a fund-raiser and funnels the money to the candidate, it makes me wonder if the candidate is in any way obligated when he votes on bills," said Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll.
Elliott frequently has lamented the strong influence lobbyists and PACs appear to have over some legislators.
"I think lobbying groups can play a very important role," he said. "We have them on both sides of issues and we hear them out.
"But it's what they do beyond that point that bothers me," he said, referring to lobbyists who regularly wine and dine legislators to try to gain their support in other ways.
The limits on PAC contributions and candidate transfers are sorely needed, said Elliott.
"The governor can spend tens of thousands of dollars on individual candidates," he said. "When you're given that kind of money, it's almost like you're trying to buy the person. What we want to do is make the candidate more dependent on the average citizen, where the greatest percentage of contributions come from."
Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore, owner of Haines Realty in Westminster, says the limits will help even the playing field for political challengers.
"The ones who support no limits know they have access to large sums of money without taking the time to get out in the community and solicit grass-roots support," said Haines, who voted for the bills in the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Carroll legislators ranklow in PAC contributions received between 1986 and 1990 compared to other lawmakers. But the Haines-Griffith contest set a new precedent for campaigns in Carroll, with Griffith raising $40,281 in PAC money and candidate transfers and Haines garnering $20,080 in PAC contributions.