Stricter laws on campaign funds backed 7-bill package wins subcommittee's OK

House passage seen

Fate in Senate uncertain

Curbs on lobbyists, fund-raising timeout among the provisions

September 27, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Democrats and Republicans in the House of Delegates are throwing their support behind sweeping legislation that would give Maryland one of the toughest campaign finance laws in the country.

The legislation would alter the state's political landscape in several important ways.

One of the seven bills in the package would curb the role of lobbyists in campaigns by forbidding them from taking part in fund-raising activities. Another would prevent an incumbent governor from holding fund-raising events for 4 1/2 months each year. Others would give the public powerful tools for learning who is bankrolling candidates.

According to leaders of both parties, the package is likely to pass the lower chamber with little difficulty. The legislation, drafted at the request of Democratic House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., received preliminary approval from a House Commerce and Government Matters subcommittee this week.

The House Republican leader, Howard County Del. Robert H. Kittleman, said he would enthusiastically support the bills as well.

The legislation's future is less certain in the Senate, where less ambitious finance reform measures passed by the House foundered last session.

The momentum for campaign finance reform has increased in recent months after a series of reports of aggressive and sometimes controversial fund-raising activities by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

They included one in which Glendening flew on a corporate jet to a New York fund-raiser organized by lobbyist Ira C. Cooke and staged by a bidder on a contract before the Board of Public Works, on which the governor sits.

While the bills would not stop bidders from holding such events, they would make it illegal for a lobbyist such as Cooke to arrange them.

The controversies swirling around the governor have helped break down the resistance to reform in the House, which has shied away from such measures as computerizing campaign contribution records. Taylor, a potential challenger to the governor, and Glendening's Republican critics have jumped on the issue, sensing that it is a winner politically.

It is not known how the bills would be received by the governor. Judi Scioli, press secretary to Glendening, said he hasn't seen the legislation yet but looks forward to working with the Assembly on the issue.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, said it was too early to say how the House legislation would fare in the upper chamber.

"I would like to read the bills first," he said.

"I've never known the Senate to be a roadblock to campaign finance reform. If it is, it'll certainly be unblocked," said Miller, who added that the Senate might propose legislation of its own.

The apparent willingness of the House to approve tough new HTC standards for reporting campaign contributions drew praise from Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, which has lobbied persistently for such measures.

"This package of campaign finance reform bills will make a significant difference in public access to timely and meaningful information about who is financing whom," said Povich.

For some of the bills, the chances of General Assembly passage are improved by the fact that they would affect only the governor and other statewide officials, bringing them under restrictions that already apply to legislators.

One that could put a crimp in Glendening's 1998 efforts is a measure that would ban fund-raising events by the governor, lieutenant governor or comptroller during the three-month General Assembly session and 50 days afterward.

The 50-day period corresponds with the time the governor has to decide whether to sign or veto bills.

Other bills would tighten the contribution-reporting requirements for companies that do business with the state, put new burdens on campaigns to list the employer and occupation of big contributors, require more timely reports of large donations, and extend campaign spending laws to judicial races.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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