Drive to loosen campaign-finance law opposed by Republicans, Perot group

February 19, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

Maryland Democrats want to relax the state's campaign financing laws, a move they claim would encourage grass-roots democracy.

But opponents of the proposal -- including the lobbying group Common Cause, Ross Perot's organization United We Stand America, and the state Republican party -- say it would open up a loophole $100,000 wide.

Under current state law, an individual or group may contribute up to $4,000 to any candidate or political committee, but can give a total of no more than $10,000 to all causes during a four-year election cycle.

The proposal by state Democrats would change that, allowing contributions made to party central committees to be excluded from the $10,000 cap.

Since there are central committees for Baltimore, each of the state's 23 counties, and the state, someone in theory could make $4,000 gifts to all of them -- for a total of $100,000.

"In our view, there is no justification for allowing $100,000 contributions to political parties," Phil Andrews, executive director of Maryland Common Cause, told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee yesterday.

"Such contributions mock the ideal that each person's vote counts the same in our democracy, and contribute mightily to the public's alienation from government," Mr. Andrews said.

But Vera Hall, the Baltimore City Council member who chairs the state Democratic party, contended that parceling out 25 contributions of $4,000 would be an unwieldy way to buy influence.

Those interested in influence aim their money at individual candidates, not at local or state parties, she said.

"You learn that's just not the way things are done when you work out in the trenches," Mrs. Hall said.

She said money given to parties often is used for registration drives and other efforts to encourage voter participation, and said it would therefore be reasonable to exclude those contributions from the $10,000 cap.

The current law, passed in 1991, has been tested only in one election. In her testimony, Mrs. Hall spoke primarily about parts of the law that apparently -- though this is not entirely clear -- place the same $4,000 restriction on the amount a party can give one of its candidates, and that candidates can give to their parties.

She said these restrictions complicate coordinated campaign efforts.

"This is detrimental to the health and stability of our political system," Mrs. Hall argued.

"It makes it more difficult for individuals to support the candidates of their party and makes it almost impossible for the party to support its nominees," she said.

Judging by their questions, committee members did not seem interested in taking central committee contributions out of the $10,000 cap.

However, they might ease the restrictions on parties' aiding their candidates.

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