Finding a way around limits

THE POLITICAL GAME

Loophole: Candidates are increasingly bypassing Maryland's strict campaign finance laws in individual and corporate giving by using the more liberal slate accounts.

September 24, 2002|By David Nitkin and Howard Libit | David Nitkin and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

GOOD-GOVERNMENT types who want to limit the role of money in politics have a growing if somewhat arcane target to aim for: the candidate slate.

Maryland's campaign finance laws are generally strict, limiting individuals and corporations to maximum donations of $4,000 to a candidate committee and a total of $10,000 to all candidates during a four-year election cycle.

But savvy politicians can bypass those limits, through loopholes in rules applying to slates of multiple candidates. The use of the technique is on the rise as elected officials come to appreciate its benefits.

Here's the advantage: If a candidate is a member of a slate, there's no limit on the transfer of funds from candidate to slate account, or from slate account to candidate. There's also no limit to the number of candidates who can join such accounts, or where they come from. Membership can cross district and county lines.

That's why former Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell was able to give $75,000 to the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee, headed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, and $30,000 to the Eighth District Slate.

Bromwell is a member of both slates and was emptying his personal campaign account - amassed as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - after becoming head of the Injured Workers Insurance Fund.

That's why Del. Maggie L. McIntosh collected $11,175 and Del. James W. Campbell received more than $8,175 from the 42nd District Unity Team slate, a grouping that was disunified by redistricting.

And that's why Del. Howard P. Rawlings was able to create the Future of Baltimore Committee, transferring $60,000 of his personal campaign funds to it. The slate in turn provided Del. Lisa A. Gladden with at least $32,000 and Del. Verna L. Jones with at least $10,000. Gladden and Jones won their respective primaries for state Senate in Baltimore.

Miller is the pioneer of the trend, forming the Senate Democratic Committee in 1997.

It has been copied by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who formed a joint Democratic account last month that has been dubbed "CasPAC" by a political wag.

Taylor was the host for a fund-raiser for lobbyists last week to feed into it and is asking House Democrats with no general-election challenge to kick in what they can. Much of the money could wind up in Baltimore County, which has several competitive races for open House seats.

Republicans also are cashing in. The Maryland Republican Legislators Committee has been aggressively raising money all year and has a fund-raiser this week in Baltimore.

James Browning, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, said the expanded use of slates "is a coordinated effort" by entrenched politicians who are learning of the technique.

"We think the slate loophole makes a mockery of campaign finance laws in Maryland," Browning said. "It's meddling in different races. It's meddling in different parts of the state."

Libertarian seeks spot in gubernatorial debate

Libertarian Party candidate Spear Lancaster wants to participate in Thursday night's gubernatorial debate sponsored by the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But he hasn't received an invitation.

"They are denying the public of the opportunity to hear from all candidates," Lancaster said. He said the NAACP - of all organizations - should appreciate his underdog status.

But NAACP Vice President Neil E. Duke was noncommittal.

"His participation hasn't been discussed," Duke said.

Hillary Clinton is expected at Van Hollen fund-raiser

Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. won't be the only Maryland politician holding a fund-raiser Oct. 2 featuring someone who has lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The night that President Bush is expected to appear at an event with Ehrlich in Baltimore, 8th District congressional candidate Christopher Van Hollen Jr. is scheduled to hold a fund-raiser at the Women's Club of Chevy Chase with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

The former first lady will help provide a big boost to Van Hollen, who is desperately in need of campaign dollars after spending almost all of his money in winning a tough Democratic primary.

Of course, Van Hollen's GOP opponent - Rep. Constance A. Morella - has received some help from the White House, with President Bush raising $400,000 for her at a luncheon in June.

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