www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-sun-investigates-slate-reform-20140523,0,2275411.story

baltimoresun.com

Slate accounts a target for government watchdogs

Reforms scheduled, but advocates say that's not enough

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

3:16 PM EDT, May 24, 2014

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The type of campaign account that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is using to bolster candidates he favors is used widely in Maryland politics, but critics say it lacks transparency.

Kamenetz transferred more than $100,000 of his campaign funds last year to A Better Baltimore County, a slate fund that will be able to transfer unlimited amounts of money to other slate members in this year's elections.

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of the watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, says slates in Maryland "tend to have a lot more ability to move money around" than those in other states.

The General Assembly passed two measures last year to impose more rules on slate funds. The changes are scheduled to take effect in 2015.

One change restricts slate membership to candidates who are actually running for office. Some call it the "Jim Smith rule," Bevan-Dangel said, after the former Baltimore County executive. Smith wasn't running for any office in 2010, but was able to transfer his campaign reserves to candidates for County Council through the Baltimore County Victory slate.

The other change caps the amount a slate fund can transfer to members at $24,000.

Common Cause and others want more changes. They say reporting requirements for slate accounts remain lax; slates still do not have to reveal which member a specific expenditure benefits.

The watchdogs also say that slates can be used as a way around caps on donations. Under Maryland law, individuals may donate no more than $4,000 per candidate per election cycle. But after the Supreme Court ruled this year that aggregate limits on donations are unconstitutional, Bevan-Dangel said, a wealthy contributor could give far more than $4,000 to a candidate by passing it through a slate.

The watchdogs also want to see slates limited to candidates who will appear on a ballot together.

Bevan-Dangel said such a requirement "would really make the slate serve that purpose they're supposed to serve, of allowing candidates who are running in the same place to pool their resources."

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