Two bills to target campaign finance

Legislation would put more limits on slates

Contributions to be scrutinized

January 04, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican who represents northern Harford County and is an advocate of campaign finance reform, will introduce two bills in the General Assembly to put more limits on slates, a type of campaign finance committee.

Glassman said slates are fund-raising groups that represent at least two members of the legislature but that may serve 25 or more members. A slate brings in funds and distributes the money to its members.

He said the purpose of the bills is to "rein in the use of slates to circumvent the campaign finance limits of $4,000 [per person] to a single candidate by giving to a slate and the candidate."

Glassman also serves on a 14-member task force established by the General Assembly two years ago to study issues relating to public funding of election campaigns.

That group, the Commission on Public Funding of Campaigns in Maryland, will hold its final meeting Thursday and submit its report and recommendations to the governor and the General Assembly at that time.

Under Glassman's proposed legislation, a slate would be allowed to contribute $7,500 to any individual member of the legislature over a four-year term.

"There is no limit today," he said. "A candidate can get $10,000, $20,000 or more from a slate."

Glassman continued, "Another loophole that needs to be plugged has to do with slates contracting directly with companies to do a mailing for a candidate. Under the current law, there is no way to track that activity."

He said the proposed legislation would require a slate to report any such contracts to the Maryland State Board of Elections. It would also have to identify the candidate who benefited from such contracts, which could include television and radio advertising, and payment for campaign posters.

The bills have the support of Common Cause Maryland, an ethics watchdog organization. "Slates bring back the dark ages of campaign finance," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause.

"There are no limits on how much they can transfer among their members, and there is no way of knowing how much money is spent," he said.

Browning called Glassman's bills "a common-sense solution to the slate problem."

In an unrelated legislative matter, Glassman said he should know soon how much support he has among county lawmakers for a bill that would allow the County Council to increase taxes and fees on homeowners to help pay for new schools and to repair old schools. Glassman, who represents District 35A, is chairman of the Harford County legislative delegation.

He said the 11-member delegation will meet Jan. 23 in Annapolis and is expected to vote on the proposed legislation.

Responding to parents demanding that something be done about crowding in public schools, the Harford County Council has requested that the delegation give it the authority to impose several fees related to owning a home.

They include an impact fee that would be imposed on homes built in the county and an excise tax on new homes, the amount of which would be determined by the size of the house.

The state lawmakers are also looking at giving the council the power to increase the rate of the transfer tax related to the sale of new and existing homes from 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

All revenue from the higher taxes would be used for the construction and renovation of schools, Glassman said.

Parents turned out in force at County Council meetings last year, complaining that schools with 20 percent to nearly 30 percent more students than they were designed to accommodate pose safety hazards and compromise students' ability to learn.

Glassman said that if the Harford delegation votes to approve the council's request for new school funding sources, the General Assembly would be likely to go along with the vote out of courtesy to the county delegation.

There will be a public hearing on the bill at the City Council office in Bel Air at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

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