Politicians raise funds in a vacuum State's outdated laws don't require donors to be named until fall

'Makes no sense'

Critics claim system hinders monitoring of financial influences

June 30, 1996|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

The next statewide election in Maryland doesn't arrive for more than two years, but the rush for campaign gold, lustily led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, is on.

And voters who may worry about the influence of money on government policy-making and regulations will have no idea who's giving how much to whom until late in the fall.

Maryland's outdated election law requires only one report of contributions received in nonelection years, so only the politician who's raising the money can keep track.

"This makes no sense at all," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

Intimate gatherings of Glendening supporters convene in private with regularity -- usually without public announcement. Tickets go for up to $1,000 each. But no one outside the governor's circle knows exactly how many of these soirees he has held.

His State House spokesman, John W. Frece, referred inquiries to his campaign treasurer, Robin Oegerly, who declined to provide any information, observing that the governor does not have to disclose anything until Nov. 26.

But some people believe that reports should be required much )) more frequently to reflect the reality that virtually every candidate is raising money throughout the four-year cycle between statewide elections. This need is especially urgent, Taylor said, "if you're trying to monitor the relationship between [Glendening's] fund raising and his Board of Public Works contracts."

In other states, reporting requirements vary considerably. Florida, for example, demands a a quarterly accounting in nonelection years, bi-weekly once the campaign begins. Maryland's relatively lax requirement dates back to those ancient-seeming days when political fund raising was restricted, custom, to the election season.

Today, fund raising never stops.

The law should change to reflect that fact, says Deborah Povich, executive director of Maryland Common Cause. Without more reporting, she said, voters can't see the relationship, if any, between contributions and the award of state contracts.

Was a governor more favorably disposed -- easing up on enforcement of no-smoking laws, for example -- to a businessman who helped him raise money? Does a governor draw big campaign contributions because the giver wants him re-elected or simply because he is a powerful public official who votes on the award of big state contracts?

The reports should be more frequent for political reasons as well, Povich observes. Using the law as a shield, candidates can conceal how much money they are accumulating for a coming competition.

"They time their fund-raisers for right after the reporting deadline so you have to wait a full year to see who's supporting them. We have to go back to the main purpose: disclosure," she said.

Taylor, who held a $250-a-ticket event of his own last week at Martin's West, said that he will explore legislation requiring more frequent reporting. He'd like the figures and the names of the givers for political as well as public policy reasons: He's mulling a race for governor.

While high-level and virtually secret fund raising continues, the rest of the political world in Maryland, contributors and officeholders alike, tries to keep pace.

A schedule of 25 candidate galas -- golf tournaments, old-fashioned fish fries, cruises, bull roasts, even a "Jamaica-Me-Crazy" party -- may be found on the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's Internet home page. (Some of these gatherings occurred weeks ago, but an interested businessman could still send a check.)

Budget and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat and senator, raised $80,000 at her party last week at Baltimore's Renaissance Harborplace Hotel.

Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, presided over his annual golf tournament last week. Busch is chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee. To tee up with the chairman cost you $125.

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary held a reception at Crofton Country Club. To be received by Gary set you back $250.

An "All American Celebration" unfolds July 7, with Del. Patricia A. Faulkner, a Montgomery County Republican, as host. Supporters will be asked to pay $50 to raise the flag for Faulkner.

Dorchester County Republican Sen. Richard F. Colburn makes the list three times with two events -- a picnic and a fall festival, $25 each -- this year and a breakfast ($20) early in 1997.

At least two lobbyists are now preparing and distributing lists similar to the chamber's: one of these gave 35 dates of events last week, not including those already held. The pace is brisk, but only somewhat more intense than last year at this time when the Glendening presence already was leading prudent candidates to make a fund-raising plan.

House Minority Leader Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, said the governor's fund-raising example has to be followed:

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