Disclose, disclose, disclose

Our view: Governor, legislators need to say if they have gotten campaign contributions from the gambling industry before this special session is over

August 12, 2012

Gov.Martin O'Malleyand Comptroller Peter Franchot don't agree on a lot of things, particularly when it comes to gambling. But they do appear to agree on one thing: Contributions from the gambling industry have the potential to unduly influence legislative and executive decisions about the expansion and management of the state's gambling program. Mr. Franchot, who despite early support for slots during his days as a delegate has emerged as the leading voice of the anti-gambling movement, has long made that contention. And with the release of his proposal for a sixth casino and the legalization of table games, Mr. O'Malley evidently agrees. Among the provisions in it are a ban on campaign contributions from gambling interests and a requirement for beefed up disclosure of spending by those who would seek to influence a voter referendum on gambling if it makes it to the ballot this fall.

If the governor considers campaign contributions from the gambling industry are so toxic that they should be banned, he should have no qualms about acquiescing to a suggestion by Mr. Franchot this week to voluntarily disclose all contributions he has received from the gambling industry, or about urging members of the General Assembly to do the same. As Mr. O'Malley and the General Assembly debate the addition of a casino inPrince George's County, the legalization of table games and a reduction in the slots tax rate for most of the state's casinos, voters deserve to know whether gambling interests might have influenced the course of debate through recent campaign contributions. But the typical campaign finance reporting schedule, which is timed with the regular 90-day session in mind, won't help in this instance.

Annual campaign finance reports are due in mind-January of every year, around the time the regular session starts. Fundraising is prohibited for legislators, the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general during the 90-day session. That way constituents can have at least have some way to gauge what might be influencing those officials' behavior.

Thanks to a new law passed this spring, it will be a bit easier to determine the impact of special interest groups. The law, which went into effect on June 1, requires a candidate to report the employer and occupation, along with the name and address, of any individual that gives more than $500 to him or her during a four-year election cycle. That will make it easier to tell how much Mr. O'Malley has gotten from the proposed developers and operators of a Prince George's casino (or, for that matter, how much Mr. Franchot has gotten from the alcohol, gasoline and tobacco industries he regulates). That information may be quite revealing, but if it isn't disclosed until January, it will mostly serve as a curiosity.

Another wrinkle in Maryland's campaign finance system is that while it's illegal to raise money during a regular session, the law is silent on the question of special sessions. In fact, some lawmakers raised money during the 2007 special session on taxes and gambling. The legislative ethics counsel has subsequently issued an opinion saying the practice is forbidden under General Assembly rules, but that, too, affords some loopholes.

The ethics guidelines say legislators can go ahead with any fund-raisers they had scheduled before the special session was announced, on the grounds that rescheduling could be difficult and costly. And the ethics guidelines have no effect on the governor or lieutenant governor. If any of them are holding fund-raisers in the coming days, they need to disclose that fact immediately. Mr. O'Malley also presents special considerations because he actively raises money outside the Maryland campaign finance system, both as head of the Democratic Governors Association and through his newly formed O Say Can You See federal political action committee. He should immediately disclose any contributions from gambling interests to those entities as well.

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