Bill targeting political gifts likely to die

Measure aims to shut campaign-fund loophole

April 07, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Legislation aimed at closing a campaign finance loophole by requiring immediate disclosure of political contributions given on the eve of the General Assembly session appears likely to die in Annapolis.

The bill would require legislators who raise more than $5,000 in the weeks preceding the legislative session to report the donations right away - rather than waiting for the next campaign finance reporting date almost a year later.

The House overwhelmingly passed the bill last month, but a Senate committee appears unlikely to take it up for a vote before the session ends Monday night.

The bill is assigned to a subcommittee of the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, and the subcommittee chairman said he doesn't plan further voting sessions.

"I do not think the bill is necessary," Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat, said yesterday. "I don't see any difference between contributions made in the spring, summer and fall and those made in the winter before the start of the session."

Collins also questioned the extra work that the bill would require of lawmakers' volunteer treasurers. "Requiring them to file another report right before or after the holidays is a lot to ask," he said.

Under Maryland's campaign finance law, candidates are required to report their annual contributions each November except in election years, when filings are required more frequently.

Although lawmakers are prohibited from raising money during the 90-day General Assembly session, many raise large amounts in the two months between the reporting deadline in November and the start of the session the second week of January.

In a review of last November's campaign finance reports, Common Cause/Maryland found that donors gave $1.35 million to candidates after the November 1999 filing deadline but before the beginning of the 2000 legislative session.

Critics note that under the current system, special interests can send contributions to lawmakers after the November deadline, then ask for help on legislation in January, and the public doesn't know about the contributions for months.

The bill - sponsored by Del. Barry Glassman, a Harford County Republican, and approved by the House by a vote of 128 to 4 - would require lawmakers who collect more than $5,000 between the November reporting date and the start of the session to file a report by the third Monday of the session.

The reporting requirement would apply to the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

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