Delegate's bid to take money out of politics

The Political Game

Bill: An effort in the House to bring public campaign financing to Maryland faces an uphill climb.

March 06, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

MARILYN E. CANAVAN brought some Yankee common sense, not to mention a lovely Maine accent, to the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee in Annapolis last week.

A Democratic state representative from Waterville, Maine, Canavan urged the committee to follow the lead of Maine and six other states and allow taxpayer money to be used to pay for legislative political campaigns.

"There's not a plan devised that takes money out of politics, but this comes as close as any I can see," Canavan said, referring to a bill sponsored by Del. John A. Hurson, a Montgomery Democrat and the House majority leader.

Hurson made a solid case for public financing at last week's hearing, bringing in Canavan and Leah Landrum, a Democratic state representative from Arizona, which also has public financing.

Landrum won a seat in the Arizona House in 1998 using privately raised campaign funds. Two years later, she used public financing to win re-election.

It made a huge difference, she told the committee.

"I didn't have to spend all my time fund raising," Landrum said. Nor did she have to accept money from the same special interests that push for legislation, she pointed out.

Under Hurson's bill, a candidate for the House of Delegates who raised at least $3,000 in contributions of $100 or less would be eligible for state campaign funds of about $33,000. That figure could go up in an especially expensive race.

Hurson chose his words carefully in a committee that has rejected similar legislation in the past.

He pointed out that he avoids the term some campaign-reform advocates use for public financing, "clean money," which implies that money raised the old-fashioned way is dirty.

He said he is optimistic that his bill might have a shot this year. A majority of the members of the House committee signed on as co-sponsors. But, being a realist, he knows a lot rides on how the committee chairman, Del. John F. Wood Jr., handles the bill.

And Wood is quite clear about his dislike of the measure.

"I just don't think it's necessary," said Wood, a St. Mary's County Democrat. He said the proposal could cost the state too much - as much as $6 million a year if all legislative candidates accepted public financing.

Plus, he said, legislative candidates ought to have to work hard for a seat, and that means going out and raising money. "It's going to entice people who would not get into the race otherwise."

It seems that there is little momentum for the bill in the House of Delegates. One ranking member said privately that while public financing might be a good idea, taxpayers aren't ready for it.

Maybe what Maryland needs is what Arizona had to go through before it adopted public financing.

It was known as AzScam, a 1990 sting that resulted in the indictment of several legislators selling their votes to an undercover agent posing as a gambling industry lobbyist.

Schaefer's fans wrestle with his public image

Name that public official: "He fights the status quo, smugglers, big spenders, urban blight, complacency, tax evaders, red tape ... For You!"

That would be, of course, the state's annoyed comptroller, William Donald Schaefer.

Later this month, Schaefer's friends will gather in Annapolis for "Schaefer Mania," a tribute to his first two years as comptroller.

The invitation to the event uses the above description, and is dominated by a picture of Schaefer's head superimposed on the enormously muscular body of a wrestler - Hollywood Hulk Hogan's, it would appear.

Never a dull moment in Schaefer Land.

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