Dirty Money?

November 02, 1994

Is it really surprising to any observer of Howard County affairs that Democrat Susan B. Gray has received no major campaign contributions from businesses or people connected to the development industry, as reported this week?

Certainly a candidate for county executive who has been so openly hostile to the business community would not expect such assistance to roll in.

Ms. Gray is banking on the perception -- indeed, she has fostered it -- that only she is above the influence of special-interest groups; in this case, the developers she says are wrecking the county by causing unbridled growth. In her view, all other candidates for county office who accept such donations are in the pockets of developers.

Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker raised twice as much as Ms. Gray in the most recent campaign reporting period. With his business-friendlier philosophy, it's small wonder that Mr. Ecker has received more business contributions than his opponent, but it is misleading to say his support is narrowly business-based.

Ms. Gray singles out developers over all others as an evil force in county politics, as if they were the only ones making campaign contributions. The fact is that every citizen has a right to donate to a political campaign.

By law, all campaign contributions must be reported and are therefore available to any interested party who wishes to peruse them. Anyone can look at a candidate's campaign report and determine whether that person seems too heavily indebted to certain interests. It's the double edge of the sword that politicians face when they accept large contributions; in the September primary, James B. Kraft may well have lost the Democratic nomination for the County Council seat he was seeking because it had been revealed days before the election that he had accepted $2,000 from a single developer, making up a sizable chunk of his total campaign revenue.

As always, the voters can oust those they believe to be selling their influence. Voters can help put an end to the perception of conflict fostered by the current system. They can tell the County Council that they no longer want it to sit simultaneously as the Zoning Board. That would decrease the temptation for developers to single out council members for their largess.

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