Campaign reforms in Annapolis Miller's role: Lawmakers can't ignore public demands for major changes.

March 09, 1997

SWEEPING SUPPORT in the House of Delegates for a package of campaign finance reforms puts members of the Maryland Senate on the spot. They can either approve these sunshine bills or kill the measures and look like selfish politicians with something to hide.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's role is pivotal. If he sends the word, these bills will be amended to death or buried under a mountain of "more important" bills on other subjects. But if the Senate president lets it be known that he very much would like this package to become law, it will happen. Hero or villain. Mr. Miller can take his pick.

By far the most important part of the package is computerization of campaign finance reports. Once this happens, the public will gain easy access to candidate filings and see where a candidate gets his or her campaign funds. At the same time, computerized reports let election officials know immediately when a contributor has exceeded the maximum contribution limits. Many campaign violations will be spotted promptly through computer cross-checks of these election-board reports.

Mr. Miller should embrace this crucial element of the package. He should also support some other important provisions, such as mandating that contributors of $500 or more list their occupation and employer and mandating more frequent reporting by candidates who are actively raising funds.

Equally important, Mr. Miller ought to support a bill extending the two-year statute of limitations for criminal election-law violations and creating civil penalties for unintentional offenses. Two years ago, he was a lead sponsor of a similar bill. Now that Del. John S. Arnick is going all-out in the House to kill the House version, Mr. Miller needs to step forward and show some leadership. On the House side, Speaker Casper Taylor must see to it that Mr. Arnick's anti-reform efforts are thwarted.

Given the strong public support for campaign finance reform, lawmakers would look awfully foolish if they scuttled these bills or played games with them. We trust that Mr. Miller will take the lead in shepherding these measures safely through the Senate committee process and floor debate, and that Mr. Taylor will complete reform efforts in the House. Failure to enact substantial campaign finance changes would only deepen skepticism about politicians and cast the Maryland legislature in a most unfavorable light.

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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