ANNAPOLIS -- The same Senate committee that set a $4,000 limit on political action committee contributions to Maryland candidates several weeks ago bowed to the will of the Senate president yesterday and doubled the figure to $8,000.
The Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee's initial 6-5 vote in favor of a $4,000 limit had amended a bill co-authored by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, who have made campaign finance reform a major priority of the 1991 legislative session.
But Mr. Miller, who has a large campaign war chest filled significantly on the strength of PAC contributions, wanted the $8,000 limit in his original bill restored and urged his committee to support him. Mr. Miller has said he believes that the limits must be reasonable because they are adjusted only infrequently by the Assembly, the last time being in 1957.
Earlier, the committee had reconsidered and stayed with the $4,000 figure. But yesterday the committee gave its president what he wanted, amending a House-passed bill that also called for a $4,000 limit.
Maryland Common Cause, a major citizens lobby in Annapolis, has said the difference between a $4,000 limit and an $8,000 limit is the difference between cosmetic reform of the campaign finance laws and real reform. Only two members of the General Assembly, one of them Mr. Miller, received a PAC contribution of more than $8,000 during the last election and only 20 exceeded the $4,000 limit -- most by small amounts.
Yesterday, members of the committee said they believed that a more restrictive bill might not pass the full Senate.
Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, said she was changing her original vote against the $8,000 limit because there would be no limits on PACs if the lower limit failed. Currently, PACs may contribute without limit -- while individual contributors may give no more than $2,000 to any single candidate in an election cycle.
The House bill, amended to the higher limit, passed the committee unanimously, 11-0. It now goes to the full Senate, where its prospects are regarded as good.
If passed, the bill would go to a House-Senate conference committee.
"The committee in the House thought $4,000 was the right number," said Delegate Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, chairwoman of the Committee on Constitutional and Administrative Law, which handled the bill in the House. The full House voted very strongly in favor of the measure.