Chairman flexes fund-raising muscle Bromwell draws heavily on regulated industries

August 30, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Drawing heavily on the generosity of the industries his powerful committee oversees, Baltimore County Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell has raised an eye-popping $437,896 for his re-election campaign.

Medical care providers, HMOs, insurance companies, banks, racetracks and casino operators are just a few of the well-heeled interests that have poured hefty sums into the Senate Finance Committee chairman's campaign treasury, according to a campaign finance disclosure statement filed this month.

Roughly 70 percent of his contributions have come from companies and political action committees, while 30 percent have come from individuals, including many lobbyists. Bromwell raised almost $100,000 from PACs.

From the health care field alone, companies and individuals with a stake in the committee's decisions contributed at least $60,000 to the Perry Hall Democrat's campaign.

Their largess has helped Bromwell raise a total of $114,816 since filing his last report in November -- pushing his campaign committee past Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's as that chamber's top money generator.

Miller, who has used much of his fund-raising prowess to raise money for a slate of Democratic senators, has added $431,310 to his own campaign treasury during the four-year election cycle.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. leads the legislative fund-raisers with $836,528, but his amount includes money he raised when he was considering a run for governor.

Fund raising on that scale is not surprising for the General Assembly's presiding officers. The Senate president and speaker of the House are two of the three most powerful officials in Maryland, and each commands a statewide following.

General Assembly committee chairmen are also potent players on the Annapolis scene, and their clout lets them raise far more money than the typical senator or delegate. But Bromwell's ability as a money magnet far exceeds any of his fellow chairmen.

Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, called Bromwell's hefty fund raising "an astonishing perversion of the political process."

"When you get into large donations from special interests, the other side of that is you have to serve those special interests," Skullney said.

Big spender

Bromwell has spent nearly as lavishly as his donors gave.

From the end of the 1994 election cycle through Aug. 11, he spent $316,746 -- leaving him with a cash balance of $126,868 on hand for the rest of his re-election campaign.

He has no Democratic challenger in the Sept. 15 primary but faces a late-starting, underfinanced Republican challenge from former Del. William Rush, who reported raising $5,550 -- $5,000 from his own pocket.

Bromwell's fund-raising power is in large part due to the subject matter that comes before his committee. The Finance Committee oversees regulation of health care, labor, insurance, utilities, banking, horse racing and a host of other high-stakes industries.

As committee head for the past four years, Bromwell has left his mark on some of the most important legislation to move through the General Assembly -- including HMO regulation, children's health and protections for patients who need experimental medical treatments.

The self-described "moderate to conservative" Democrat takes pride in being a consensus-builder whose committee avoids partisan rancor. Lobbyists on both sides of contentious issues say he treats them fairly.

A loyal lieutenant of Miller, the four-term senator is also a nearly impenetrable roadblock to legislation the Senate president doesn't want passed.

Health industries contribute

The biggest givers among the industries that come before the Finance Committee are in the field of health care. Bromwell has been able to tap into givers on virtually every side of every power struggle or turf battle before the committee -- HMOs, doctors, chiropractors, surgical outpatient centers, nursing homes and pharmacies.

But the senator has also been adept at raising money from the insurance industry, which has given him at least $11,500, and the financial services sector, which has been good for at least $14,200. These figures are conservative estimates that for the most part do not include individuals with an interest in a certain industry.

While the Finance Committee does not oversee alcoholic beverages or tobacco, Bromwell has additionally been able to raise impressive sums from those industries.

A former tavern owner, Bromwell raised at least $28,000 from bars, restaurants, package stores, liquor wholesalers and their political action committees. At least $8,500 came from tobacco distributors and manufacturers.

Those industries found a valuable ally in Bromwell on the last day of this year's session, when his threat to stage a filibuster killed a bill that would have banned coin-operated cigarette vending machines in most public places.

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