State Senate committee has cash for candidates Loophole: The haves of the Maryland Senate have found a way to aid their less fortunate Democratic colleagues financially in the election next year.

The Political Game

December 09, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

THE MARYLAND Senate's majority can be divided into two basic groups: Dems that got and Dems that don't.

And Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and other members of his Democratic leadership team -- definitely the "haves" in this equation -- have found a way to help their less fortunate colleagues in next year's election.

By creating the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee, which took in nearly $500,000 at a fund-raiser last week, Miller and his party's majority of 31 other senators will be able to shift unlimited amounts of money to candidates who may need it.

Under Maryland law, campaign committees are limited to transferring $6,000 to any other committee.

But a loophole in the law allows candidates who are members of a slate to transfer unlimited amounts of money from their accounts to the accounts of other members of the slate.

And the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee was set up as just that -- a slate.

The senators have not decided whether to bring into the fold nonincumbent Democrats who challenge incumbent Republicans next year. Those decisions will be made in the spring, after the General Assembly adjourns for the year, Miller said.

He said he believes his effort is necessary because the state GOP wants to grab nine more Senate seats next year for a majority -- a feat most people consider unlikely to happen -- and because of the complacency he sees in Maryland Democrats.

"This is not so much about shifting money, but introducing candidates to a way to respond to this threat from the other side," Miller said.

The senators' efforts have raised concerns among Republican lawmakers and also among some in the conservative business community.

Robert O. C. "Rocky" Worcester, head of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, has started a campaign of his own, sending out memos decrying Miller's actions.

"The slate committee is a major loophole in Maryland's campaign finance laws that has escaped my attention and many others," he wrote in a Nov. 25 dispatch on the "consequences" of Miller's action.

Ironically, it was a 1992 inquiry by Worcester that prompted an attorney general's informal opinion that such transfers are indeed legal.

L "Oh," he said, after being reminded. "I had forgotten that."

Nevertheless, Worcester still feels Miller's effort circumvents the state limits on campaign transfers and gives Democrats an unfair advantage.

Worcester also complained that the effort would further drive up the cost of Senate races, which hit an all-time high in the 1994 elections, and dry up money for what he described as "pro-business candidates."

Miller remains resolute.

"As president of the Senate, on my watch, six [Democratic] seats went by the wayside in 1994," he said.

And that, he said, will not happen again if he can help it.

Ratchford's 'retirement' turns out to be short-lived

Retirement didn't last long for William S. Ratchford II, Maryland's longtime fiscal watchdog.

Three months after calling an end to his 23-year run as head of the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services, Ratchford has found work with an advocacy group backed by large utility companies and with the city of Baltimore's legislative lobbying office.

He said neither job involves lobbying his former employers in the legislature, where his credibility on budget issues is unparalleled, although he would not categorically rule out taking lobbying work in the future.

Ratchford has put in two brief appearances before a task force studying deregulation of Maryland's electric power industry, representing Citizens for Sensible Electricity Reform -- a coalition largely underwritten by the state's leading power companies but also including many smaller businesses and nonprofit groups.

From the city, Ratchford will receive up to $52,500 for up to 700 hours of work as a $75-an-hour consultant to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on fiscal policy and legislative matters.

The eight-month contract, approved last month by the Board of Estimates, calls for Ratchford to provide "advice and assistance" to the mayor's Office of State Relations during the 1998 Assembly session.

Ratchford's portrait, and that of his one-time counterpart, F. Carvel Payne, the retired head of legislative reference, will be unveiled this afternoon at the Legislative Services Building in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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