Public campaign funding hits a snag in Md. Senate

April 03, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,sun reporter

The prospects for public financing of General Assembly campaigns dimmed yesterday when Senate leaders pushed debate of a proposal off until the final days of the legislative session.

Saying he wants time to study the fiscal impact of the proposal, which would cost the state about $28 million over four years, Sen. Ulysses Currie, the Budget and Taxation Committee chairman from Prince George's County, asked for a delay in consideration of the bill until Friday.

With the legislature set to adjourn Monday, proponents say the move is a transparent attempt to avoid public debate and votes on a measure that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and other legislative leaders oppose, in part because of the fiscal impact.

"That was a killer," Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, the bill's chief sponsor, said of the delay.

Pinsky said he will try procedural maneuvers to make sure his colleagues are forced to go on record on the measure.

The House of Delegates passed a similar bill last year, but leaders in that chamber have been waiting for the Senate to act before moving forward with their version this year.

Proponents say the bill would help remove the taint of special-interest influence from state government by eliminating the need for campaign fundraising. The bill would provide funding - up to $100,000 for a contested Senate race - to candidates who demonstrate a minimal threshold of support.

Currie said he wants to consider the public-financing bill in the context of the state budget, which faces a gap between revenues and expenditures of between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion next year.

"It might be a bill we can't afford, given where we are fiscally," Currie said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Frederick County Republican, questioned the spending limits associated with the system. The proposal would allocate up to $100,000 to a Senate campaign, but it would also impose a spending limit of that amount.

Said Mooney: "I'm shocked this bill is out there, frankly."

Miller, the chief fundraiser for his party's Senate candidates, interjected, saying he, too, was surprised to see the bill make it onto the Senate

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