Fund-raising ban during session lifted for legislators seeking other offices

December 17, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Maryland legislators running for governor, Congress or local government offices next year have been exempted from a 5-year-old policy that prohibits General Assembly members from holding political fund-raisers during the coming 90-day General Assembly session.

In a Dec. 7 letter, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., who is expected to be chosen speaker of the House in January, said they decided on the exemption because "many members . . . would face distinct disadvantages if they were prohibited from fund raising during the 1994 session."

John R. Stierhoff, counsel to Mr. Miller, said the 1994 exemption includes the three legislators running for governor.

"Both the speaker and Senator Miller reflected long and hard" before making their decision, he said, calling the exemption the "most equitable" solution for people who could be left far behind without it.

Common Cause of Maryland disagreed, calling the change "unfortunate" and a move that "creates the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Assistant Director Deborah Povich noted -- as did the letter from legislative leaders -- that the policy was established in 1988 to combat a public perception of influence-peddling that resulted from legislative committee leaders' practice of selling tickets to fund-raisers through lobbyists who had important bills before their committees.

Dennis F. Rasmussen, former Baltimore County executive and one-time Senate Finance Committee chairman, was one of those criticized in the mid-1980s for holding a fund-raiser during the session. He later ended the practice.

"The appearance [of conflict of interest] is still there," Ms. Povich said, adding that legislators running for other offices will still vote during the 1994 session. In addition, she said, 87 percent of incumbent delegates and 82 percent of incumbent senators were re-elected in 1990 despite the 90-day fund-raising ban that did not apply to their challengers.

She noted that legislators running for Congress got a similar exemption in 1992, a presidential election year that included a March primary during the legislative session. This campaign is different, she said, because the primary comes in September.

The affected candidates argued that the exemption levels the playing field for them.

Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, an East Baltimore Democrat running for governor, is taking no chances, however. He has scheduled two fund-raisers, one for $250 a ticket, the other for $150 a ticket, on Jan. 10 and 11, the latter two days before the legislative session begins.

He said he plans to solicit funds during the session, though not from lobbyists or State House regulars. "I'll try to keep it as neat and clean as I can," he said.

Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Baltimore County, said she is planning a fund-raiser during the session. "You can't expect one candidate not to be raising money when everybody else is," she said. "Full disclosure is the important thing."

Montgomery County Sen. Mary H. Boergers, another Democratic candidate for governor, agreed that the exemption is a good thing. "In the real world of politics, you have to be able to raise money," she said, adding that several of her rivals, including Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, have been raising money for years.

Catonsville Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, a potential Democratic contender for Baltimore County executive, said she, too, is planning a midsession fund-raiser. Her November campaign finance report showed $15,000 on hand, while several likely opponents have more than $175,000 each in the bank. If she had to wait until April to raise money, she said, it would be too late.

Baltimore County Republican Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a candidate for Maryland's 2nd District congressional seat, said he is planning a $50-a-ticket fund-raiser during the session, on Feb. 5. He and Towson Democratic Del. Gerry L. Brewster, likely to be another 2nd District candidate, agreed that the exemption is needed.

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