Bill on campaign giving targets Md.-funded firms

Measure would make contributions illegal

February 11, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Concerned that tax dollars are being used for campaign contributions, some legislators want to prohibit Maryland businesses and organizations that get most of their money from the state from giving to political candidates.

State Sen. Jean W. Roesser, a Montgomery County Republican and sponsor of legislation to make the practice illegal, said her bill was prompted by articles in The Sun last year about the campaign contributions of MSBDFA Management Group (MMG).

The bill has a powerful co-sponsor in Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. He said groups such as MMG that get most of their operating money from the state "have no business making campaign contributions" to legislators who vote on their funding.

MMG has a $1.1 million-a-year contract to manage small-business loan programs for the state. The company was formed by essentially privatizing what had been a public agency under the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

Legislative auditors raised concerns last year that MMG made about $21,000 in campaign contributions to candidates for local and state offices between February 1995 and May 1998. Auditors said that amounted to using public tax dollars for political purposes.

Roesser said the practice needs to be stopped.

"I just think it's outrageous that an agency that's a spinoff of a state entity and gets its funding from the state would engage in making campaign contributions to candidates," she said.

Miller said he also was disturbed by the contributions.

"What was so outrageous about their particular case was that they receive 100 percent of their operating funds from the state, and then turn around and make campaign contributions," Miller said.

But a House leader said he thinks the bill goes too far.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the Appropriations Committee, called it "a very wide-reaching piece of legislation" that could have unintended consequences.

For example, he said, health care companies that get most of their income from Medicaid could be barred from contributing to candidates.

"We're in this period of heightened interest in ethics, so I understand the nature of the legislation," Rawlings said. "But I think we have to be careful about overreaching and overstepping in trying to deal with this problem."

Rawlings, who was among legislators who received campaign contributions from MMG, called the measure "overkill."

MMG President Stanley W. Tucker said the bill would not affect his company because it decided last year -- after the issue surfaced -- not to make more campaign contributions.

Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said that group would favor such legislation.

"How can you defend using public money for political contributions?" she asked.

It is not clear how many businesses and organizations would be affected.

Roesser said her intent is to ban those getting more than half their income from the state in any year from contributing during a four-year election cycle.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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