JESSE UNRUH, the late California political boss, had good reason to say, "Money is the mother's milk of politics." Anyone holding or aspiring to elective office needs cash. And raising money has become a full-time preoccupation for most American politicians.
So Baltimore County Council's informal agreement not to solicit campaign donations during its comprehensive zoning review was a remarkable demonstration of self-restraint.
Members agreed that between August 1999, when the Planning Department began accepting petitions for the quadrennial zoning changes, and October 2000, when the council voted on those changes, its members would refrain from raising money.
In these cynical times, people believe that campaign contributions determine all official actions. But the truth is that some fund raising is more influential than others. It's hard to buy a politician's favor with a $35 bull roast ticket. It's at the $1,000-a-plate dinners where the lasting impression is made.
By not soliciting contributions during its quadrennial rezoning process, Baltimore County Council members escaped the appearance that money -- rather than master plans and community plans -- determined their decisions.
Unfortunately, no other local jurisdictions have similar arrangements. Their local elected officials are always able to receive political donations, regardless of the matters before them. That feeds citizens' worst suspicions about local government decisions.
By creating fund-raising-free periods, local governments could easily combat the notion that fund raising is inherently corrupting. And they could build stronger confidence. Spells of fund-raising self-denial would reassure the public that raising money is a necessary evil -- and not the only reason these politicians are in office.