Election reform poster child Brian H. Davis: Egregious violations of campaign finance limits should spur overhaul.

December 15, 1996

INADVERTENTLY, Brian H. Davis may have done Marylanders a favor. By making a mockery of state campaign finance laws during a quarter-million-dollar giving binge, this little-known Baltimore businessman has become the poster child for election reform in the General Assembly.

Why Mr. Davis so flagrantly exceeded donation limits in sprinkling big contributions to numerous politicians remains a mystery. What's clear is how he could get away with obvious violations of state election laws.

The secret lies in the antiquated set-up at the state elections board. Thousands of candidates file voluminous reports each year. The paperwork is monumental. Yet there is no computerization of these important records. Everything is recorded on paper.

It thus was a simple matter for Mr. Davis to give at least $29,000 under different names to Gov. Parris Glendening's campaign; $58,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Helen Bentley; $17,000 to attorney general candidate Richard Bennett; $15,000 to Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, and $12,000 to retiring state Sen. John Pica, and never raise questions about breaching donation limits.

Election laws are so weak that Mr. Davis cannot even be prosecuted for many illegalities because of a two-year statute of limitation. Without computerized campaign reports, it is nearly impossible to spot even willful violators. Moreover, lawmakers have intentionally stripped the state prosecutor of resources. Who is left to guard against election-law abuses?

Public disenchantment is already high, thanks to publicity about illegal contributions from race-track owner Joseph De Francis and Governor Glendening's frequent fund-raising, especially from well-healed businessmen who often conduct business with the state. Now comes Sun reporter Michael Dresser's expose of Mr. Davis' shenanigans.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor already is taking the lead on election-law reforms. It is essential that strong measures be enacted to force more frequent filing of fund-raising information; computerized campaign reports; mandatory identification of a donor's occupation, employer and whether the firm does business with the state; increased penalties; longer statutes of limitation periods for prosecution, and a bigger budget for the state prosecutor.

Campaign reforms must be a top priority for both Mr. Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller. Otherwise, Marylanders will continue to question the honesty and integrity of political candidates and the election process.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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