GOP can spend nothing on Sauerbrey, state says

September 24, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

Charting the unexplored waters of public financing, Maryland's attorney general said yesterday that the GOP can spend no money on behalf of Ellen R. Sauerbrey, its own gubernatorial candidate.

Any money spent by the party on her behalf must count against the maximum of $1 million in taxpayer funds Mrs. Sauerbrey can spend under the public campaign financing law, the attorney general said in an advisory opinion.

The opinion appears to be a major setback for the GOP, which had hoped to spend its own money to help Mrs. Sauerbrey close the money gap on her better-financed Democratic opponent, Parris N. Glendening.

Republican officials called the opinion politically motivated and said they were considering a court challenge.

The sweeping opinion says the state GOP and its county affiliates are even precluded from printing sample ballots with Mrs. Sauerbrey's name on them.

Carol L. Hirschburg, spokeswoman for Mrs. Sauerbrey, said the ruling was particularly harmful because it comes at a time when many supporters are looking to contribute to the party and its gubernatorial candidate. "There's more interest in the Republican Party now than at any time I can remember," Ms. Hirschburg said.

During its 1994 session, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, at the urging of the Democratic Party, rewrote the law to increase from $10,000 to about $2 million the amount that state and local parties could spend on candidates.

The GOP had hoped to use that change in the law to spend much of its own money on Mrs. Sauerbrey's behalf, without it counting against her public campaign fund of $1 million.

Attorneys for both the party and Mrs. Sauerbrey said they would discuss the ruling with party officials across the state before deciding whether to challenge it in court.

Joyce L. Terhes, chairman of the state GOP, accused the attorney general's office, headed by Democrat J. Joseph Curran Jr., of issuing a politically motivated ruling to hurt the Republicans' chances. "They've tried to tilt the playing field," Mrs. Terhes said. "I think it will backfire on them."

Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler said politics played no role in the ruling. "We've answered an important legal question in the way we think it should be properly answered," Mr. Tyler said.

So-called "noncoordinated" expenditures by independent political groups on Mrs. Sauerbrey's behalf would not count against the total her campaign can spend. But, the opinion said, party expenditures don't fall into that category.

"It is nonsensical to believe that a party would make expenditures on behalf of its gubernatorial nominee without the knowledge and consent of the nominee," said the opinion, which was signed by Mr. Tyler and Assistant Attorney General Mary O. Lunden.

Public financing of state elections was first approved by the General Assembly in 1974, with Maryland residents making donations when they filed their income taxes.

Gubernatorial candidates must first qualify for public financing by raising money on their own. If they do qualify and accept public funding, they can't spend additional money of their own without reducing their public funding. Mrs. Sauerbrey qualified for just under $1 million in public funds.

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