Md. Assembly leaders sharing election funds

September 12, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer

They have become the new bosses in Maryland legislative politics. The money men. The men to see.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. have become more than simply the presiding officers of the General Assembly. No longer does their considerable power stop with the award of powerful chairmanships or plum committee assignments to those elected the legislature.

Their influence now extends to helping decide who gets elected to the legislature.

During the past year, and mostly during the past month, Mr. Miller and Mr. Taylor have, together, transferred more than $105,000 from their own campaign funds to dozens of political friends running for Senate or House seats.

Such generosity, mostly directed to Democrats seeking re-election, not only gives incumbents a leg up on challengers, but may buy enough loyalty to ensure that Mr. Miller and Mr. Taylor retain their powerful posts when the new assembly is seated in January.

"They're playing the role of Godfather," complains Deborah Povich, executive director of the citizens lobbying group, Common Cause/Maryland.

"When candidates transfer campaign contributions, they increase voter cynicism because the electoral process appears to be stacked," she said. "It is no longer the voters and the contributors whose opinions count. It is a select few."

The issue goes beyond the question of whether it is proper for the presiding officers to recycle donations ostensibly given for their own re-election to help pay for the election of others, she said. It raises a fundamental question as to the motives of those who would concentrate hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hands of the presiding officers to begin with.

"That's a lot of power, and a lot of influence," Ms. Povich said.

Mr. Taylor, a former tavern own- er from Cumberland, became House speaker in November. He is unopposed for re-election in tomorrow's Democratic primary and in the Nov. 8 general election. Yet, he reported raising $370,122, including more than $72,000 from more than 80 business and industry political action committees (PACs).

From that treasury, Mr. Taylor has dispensed $56,350 to at least 26 separate candidates or slates of candidates for the House. He gave the $6,000 maximum allowed by law to the 40th District Unity Team and the 43rd District slate in Baltimore, and to the 12th District Delegates' slate in Baltimore County. At least 21 of his transfers were for $1,000 or more.

Mr. Taylor said his contributors knew what he was likely to use the money for when they gave it.

"I made it clear . . . that I was there to help and wanted to help incumbents," he said. "My policy was an open-door policy for any of my colleagues who needed financial help. Up to this point, I've helped everyone who has asked for help."

He acknowledged such financial assistance will probably help him retain his job as speaker.

would certainly think that it doesn't hurt," he said, also hinting that such gifts may lay the foundation for some future race for higher office. "You try to establish yourself as a more visible statewide player in the entire system."

Mr. Miller, a Clinton lawyer who has been Senate president since 1987, has had longer to build up his campaign fund. His campaign finance reports show he has accumulated nearly $600,000 in donations over the years and has about $300,000 in the bank. Like Mr. Taylor, he, too, has no opponent in the Democratic primary. He faces a little known Republican in the general election in heavily Democratic Prince George's County.

His reports show that he has transferred $48,825 to about 30 candidates, most of them in $3,000 amounts to incumbent senators or candidates vying for open Senate seats. His biggest contribution was $5,000 to his Democratic floor leader, Sen. Clarence W. Blount of Baltimore.

Mr. Miller also appears to have played the field in gubernatorial politics, giving $2,000 to his old friend and predecessor, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, and $1,000 to Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski.

He also gave $500 to Sen. Mary H. Boergers and $300 to Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Republican, but did so before the two Montgomery County lawmakers gave up their re-election bids to run for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively.

Mr. Miller justified the largess, saying that presiding officers have increasingly been asked to help because running for public office has become so expensive.

"People need to get their message out," he said. "When you represent a senatorial district of 100,000 people, it is very expensive to do the direct mail and the media buys."

Marvin Mandel, who was House speaker in the 1960s before becoming governor, said presiding officers never controlled or disbursed such amounts until recently. He agreed the change reflects the exploding cost of politics.

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