A contribution to finance reform Lobbying: The governor's fund-raising trip to New York may have unwittingly boosted a State House proposal for broader limits on campaign donations.

The Political Game

August 13, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

THE GOVERNOR'S recent fund-raising foray into New York may have given a potential opponent in the 1998 Democratic primary, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a needed push for a package of campaign-finance reforms he embraced last month.

Under one of the initiatives now backed by Taylor, a ban on lobbyists raising funds for legislative candidates would be extended to cover candidates for statewide office -- such as, say, governor.

"There's no question it certainly puts the spotlight on some of the arm's-length proposals that have been suggested," Taylor said of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's trip.

Glendening's latest fund-raising episode is a simple tale of his attending a $1,000-a-ticket event for his re-election campaign held by the chairman of a medical services company now bidding on a multimillion-dollar state contract.

In a generous gesture of interstate goodwill, the company chairman had about 60 of his closest friends over to his Manhattan apartment and flew the gubernatorial guest of honor to and from New York aboard his corporate jet.

The go-between? Ira C. Cooke, lobbyist for Merit Behavioral Care Corp., the medical services company.

"If we had had the even playing field in place right now, what Ira Cooke did would be illegal," Taylor said. "He can't do that for legislators -- stage and solicit for a fund-raiser. That's what I mean by an 'even playing field.' "

Ironically, the governor's trip was July 23 -- the same day as a House subcommittee hearing in which Taylor threw his support behind a package of major improvements to Maryland's campaign finance law, including the lobbyist ban.

That day, Taylor said he was supporting legislation requiring more frequent reporting of campaign fund-raising activity and computerizing state files to make it easier for the public to track politicians' money.

He specifically cited his concern about the public's mistrust of political fund raising.

Of course, the speaker is no stranger to fund raising himself, having a couple hundred thousand dollars in the bank, thanks to his annual spring gala. And it was Taylor, an Allegany Democrat, who sanctioned a fund-raiser during this year's legislative session for then-Del. Elijah E. Cummings, who was running for the 7th District congressional seat.

Despite a General Assembly policy against raising money while the legislature is in session -- an effort to eliminate the "perception of conflicts of interest and undue influence" -- another policy does allow midsession fund-raisers for congressional, statewide and local races.

Taylor invoked the loophole in allowing two of his committee chairman to hold a $250-a-ticket breakfast for Cummings, who was Taylor's speaker pro tem in the House of Delegates and congressional candidate of choice.

Now, the question is whether Taylor, who continues to weigh a gubernatorial bid, can capitalize on the current desire of some legislators to distance themselves from Glendening.

If he does, he could come up with the needed support for the reform legislation -- which many lawmakers, including some in House leadership, find abhorrent.

The New York fund-raising effort by Glendening's money-machine campaign could be the catalyst.

Magazines feature news from state political circles

On sale at a magazine rack near you: News from Maryland's political front.

Emily Smith, who managed Glendening's 1994 campaign for governor, is prominently featured in "Women in the War Room," an article in the August issue of Vogue magazine about the growing number of women campaign managers.

It's hardly a kiss-and-tell, but Smith does confess publicly for the first time that by Election Day '94 she was convinced Glendening would lose, based on polling data. At the time, she was adamant that the campaign's polls showed Glendening 10 points ahead of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

In this month's issue of George, John F. Kennedy Jr.'s venture into political publishing, Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein briefly offers his recollections of Democratic national conventions since 1940 -- his first.

Goldstein, 83, identified as a "political junkie" in a long article about this summer's political conventions, announced earlier this year he would seek an 11th term as comptroller in 1998.

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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