Public campaign finance finds new ally in Miller

Senate president now backs pilot plan for legislative candidates

March 07, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,

Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller lent his hefty political capital yesterday to a cause he has long opposed: public campaign financing.

Proponents of the plan "beat me down," Miller, a Democrat who represents Calvert and Prince George's counties, told reporters as he announced his support of legislation that would make Maryland among the handful of states that offer public money to candidates for the legislature.

He also said he decided to support a plan that will now work its way through the Assembly in the final five weeks of the legislative session in part because of how much last year's federal campaigns cost. The initiative also raises campaign contribution limits for those who choose traditional financing, something Miller has long sought.

Good-government advocates acknowledged that the proposal, scheduled for a Senate hearing next week, was "a hard compromise" because of the contribution increases.

Individual limits would rise from $4,000 to $4,400, the political committee limit from $6,000 to $6,600 and the cumulative giving limit from $10,000 to $15,000.

"Being deadlocked year after year after year doesn't do anyone any good," said Ryan O'Donnell, director of Maryland Common Cause.

A similar proposal failed by one vote on the Senate floor last year. Miller opposed it.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat and the legislation's lead sponsor, outlined yesterday how the public financing plan would work.

Taxpayers could check off a $5 contribution box on their income tax forms. No general taxpayer dollars would be used.

It would be a sort of pilot program from 2011 to 2014, and a commission would be established to study how it worked and suggest future funding sources.

To tap into the money, candidates would need to collect $5 from at least 350 people and raise another $1,000. Senate candidates would then have access to $100,000 total to use in primary and general election. Candidates for the House of Delegates would receive up to $80,000 between the two races. Pinsky's plan would also enable counties and cities to establish their own public financing programs, which O'Donnell said would help bring new faces into government.

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