Money, campaigns and secrecy Fund-raising reforms: House speaker leads charge to revamp weak election-finance laws.

July 30, 1996

IT'S ABOUT TIME. Annapolis leaders finally have been shamed into action on Maryland's creaky campaign-finance laws. Who knows? Perhaps it might lead to substantive changes devoid of politically inspired loopholes that incumbents love to exploit.

What triggered this rush to embrace campaign-finance reform was an uproar over illegal contributions from race-track owner Joseph De Francis. It re-enforced bad public impressions about politicians, money and influence.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor quickly took the lead. His suggestions hit the mark. He wants to computerize spending reports so the truth isn't "hopelessly obscured in a maze of paper." He wants quarterly, or even weekly, campaign reports instead of today's inadequate annual reports. He wants big campaign donors fully identified. He wants a statute banning fund-raising by state legislators or statewide elected officials during the time when bills are drafted, voted on and signed into law.

Given the common-sense nature of these proposals, it is not surprising that both Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller quickly endorsed them.

The three men must convert verbal pledges to concrete results. Now is the time to agree on basic provisions well before next year's General Assembly session. They should confer with other key legislators now, before political pressures build to dilute reforms.

No doubt some of Mr. Taylor's new-found ardor comes from his anger over Governor Glendening's non-stop fund-raising, which need not be reported till after Thanksgiving. Yet Mr. Taylor, too, has gone after big donors for his own fund-raising gala -- money that could form the basis for a gubernatorial challenge. That report isn't due till late in the year, either.

The three leaders seem anxious to show the public they have little to hide. As Mr. Taylor noted, "the appearance of impropriety is almost as damaging to the public's perception of its elected officials as actual wrongdoing." His reforms would go a long way toward correcting that impression. They should form the basis for immediate discussions among legislators and the governor's staff.

We are counting on Messrs. Taylor, Glendening and Miller to come up with strong, effective changes and to sell them to legislators. Their actions will be watched closely by Marylanders. Failure is not a viable option.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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