A controversial campaign committee formed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to protect Democratic control of Maryland's upper chamber has more than $430,000 on hand to defend against Republican challenges, campaign finance records show.
In a report filed this week, the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee reported that it has raised $636,298 and has spent $200,387 -- most of it on polling.
That leaves a campaign fund of about $436,000 from which Miller can direct large sums to the most embattled of his party's incumbents.
Much of the money was raised from the traditional players in the political poker game -- lobbyists and companies with a stake in issues before the General Assembly.
But the largest contributions were made by Democratic senators who transferred funds from their campaign accounts -- especially members of Miller's leadership team whose seats are viewed as safe.
For instance, Miller's campaign committee poured $140,000 into the statewide fund. Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, the Baltimore County Democrat who chairs the powerful Finance Committee, gave $75,000. Baltimore Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, kicked in $50,000.
Under Maryland law, the senators typically would be allowed to transfer no more than $6,000 to another campaign committee. But Miller set up his Democratic Senatorial Committee as a "slate" of candidates running together -- a slate that includes all of the Senate's incumbent Democrats. Members of a slate are allowed to transfer unlimited amounts of money to other slate members.
When Miller's slate was formed last year, Republicans cried foul -- contending that it frustrates the intent of the state's campaign finance laws.
"He's found a loophole and he's abusing it," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House minority whip. The Howard County Republican said the law about slates was intended to cover candidates running together in a certain jurisdiction or as a statewide team -- not for senators running in different districts.
"Do people in Harford County or Baltimore County want to elect senators who are beholden to a Prince George's County senator -- namely, Mike Miller?" Flanagan said.
An unapologetic Miller said the statewide committee is the result of his determination to prevent a repeat of the 1994 election -- when Republicans seized six seats previously held by Democrats. He cited a vow by Maryland Republican Party chairwoman Joyce Lyons Terhes to take away nine Democratic seats in 1998 to gain control of the Senate.
"I didn't make this stuff up," Miller said. "I study politics and I studied about the Republican Party in Virginia, where they provided millions of dollars into Governor [James S.] Gilmore's campaign and it funneled down into the Senate and House races."
Most of the money was raised last December and January -- much of it at a lavish fund-raiser Dec. 5 at the Harbor Court Hotel at the Inner Harbor.
The guests that night included a virtual who's who of the Annapolis lobbying corps, along with longtime Democratic activists and representatives of companies with issues pending before the legislature.
One interest group that was especially generous to the slate was the vending machine industry. Two trade associations and about a dozen companies combined to chip in at least $10,000.
Four months later, the industry emerged victorious in its fight against legislation that would have placed severe restrictions on cigarette sales through vending machines.
The bill, passed overwhelmingly by the House, died on the Senate floor the last night of the session.
Miller said the contributions "absolutely, positively, unequivocally" had nothing to do with the fate of the bill.
Pub Date: 8/20/98