Evading campaign donation limits De Francis charged: How many others broke contributions law?

July 11, 1996

WE ARE SHOCKED, shocked! Some businessmen are actually pumping money into political coffers through proxies to disguise the fact they are violating the law by exceeding donation limits! Can you believe it?

Apparently Gov. Parris Glendening cannot. He, too, said he was shocked, shocked! to learn that Stephen Montanarelli, the state prosecutor, had charged Pimlico track owner Joe De Francis with violating campaign finance laws by funneling $12,000 to the 1994 Glendening race through three New York relatives.

In truth, the only thing shocking is that Mr. De Francis got caught. The practice of using proxies -- friends, relatives or corporate employees -- is well established, despite its illegality. Just yesterday, the man who had been a top Bob Dole fund-raiser was fined $1 million, and his company was fined $5 million, for using employees to pump $120,000 of his money into the Dole campaign and other recent GOP races.

Joe De Francis' misdemeanor pales by comparison. But the state prosecutor may have sent a chilling message to other donors: Defying the law could be painful. The De Francis episode may also cool the political ardor for legalizing slot machines at his race tracks.

It is illegal to give money to a state candidate through proxies. It also is against the law to give more than $4,000 to a single candidate or $10,000 overall in a four-year election cycle. If you pay $4,000 to attend a Glendening fund-raiser, donate another $4,000 to House Speaker Casper Taylor at his fund-raiser and give Senate President Mike Miller $2,000 at his event, you cannot contribute a penny more until 1999.

With Annapolis pols scrambling to wring dollars from supporters, numerous donors could feel compelled to evade the contributions limit. And why not? Prosecutions may be limited because legislators have kept campaign laws vague on purpose.

The situation is intolerable. Governor Glendening should embrace reforms. Require all candidates to file computerized reports, with the state elections board monitoring compliance with campaign laws. Donors should have to list occupation and employer, or other relevant data. And the state prosecutor should get more funds for his office.

These steps won't be popular with some legislators, who like weak campaign finance laws and weak enforcement. But the public isn't fooled. Campaign finance reform must happen, or politicians risk voter revenge.

Pub date: 7/11/96

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