Del. Anthony G. Brown

At a rally in Annapolis, Del. Anthony G. Brown (center) addresses opponents of legalizing slot machines in Maryland. "This movement will not stop until this obsession with slot machines comes to an end," says Del. Peter Franchot, who also attended the rally. (Sun photo by Monica Lopossay / February 4, 2004)

Opponents of legalizing slot machines in Maryland, who have persevered in past years with polite, often church-led activism, yesterday launched a new campaign that calls for clogging the fax machines of lawmakers with anti-slots messages until they "fall to their knees and cry 'uncle.'"

The new, guerrilla-style tactics were unveiled yesterday at a rally in Annapolis that brought together a coalition of legislators and officials - as well as a Washington-based political advocacy firm that specializes in spam-and-fax protests.

The group, laptoplobbyist.com, bills itself as a grass-roots lobbying concern that focuses on conservative political causes. The campaign started yesterday with e-mails going to 1.6 million Marylanders, offering, for $10, to send anti-slot faxes in their name to legislators and the governor's office.

"We need to flood their fax machines this week with hundreds of thousands of faxes and disrupt their day to day operations until they fall to their knees and cry 'uncle,' " reads the e-mail message sent out by the anti-slots group. "[T]he time to act is now, because on February 11, they're going to try to ram their slots [bill] down our throats."

Political analysts say the maneuver could backfire by irritating elected officials who find themselves on the receiving end of a deluge of faxes.

"I think politically it's a horrible tactic," said Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It's going to annoy the senators and delegates whose offices get shut down as a result."

But W. Minor Carter, a lobbyist for the coalition of anti-slots groups, said organizing such letter-writing and fax campaigns is a common tactic others have used successfully in political battles.

"Good or bad, that's the way that politics is today," he said.

Those who receive the e-mails are directed to links that, for a $10 charge, will generate an anti-slots fax under their name that will then be sent to every member of the General Assembly, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Maryland Republican Party Chairman John Kane.

"We created this so the average person can electronically lobby their position on issues that are important to them," said Gary Gamber, director of business development for laptoplobbyist.com.

He said the firm hopes as many as 10,000 Marylanders will participate, which would result in more than 2 million faxes being sent.

After expenses, he said, any profits will be divided, with the anti-slots coalition getting a 60 percent share of the money to finance other activities.

Limited effect

Norris, the public policy professor, said that electronic lobbying efforts have long been used to target congressmen in Washington - and more recently have shifted to state legislatures.

But he said they tend to have limited effect because elected officials have learned to discount such organized campaigns.

About two dozen Democratic lawmakers participated in yesterday's news conference to launch the coalition's anti-slots effort. They were joined by Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., ministers and representatives of the League of Women Voters, Maryland NAACP chapters and others.

Del. Anthony G. Brown, a Prince George's Democrat, said the debate needs to shift from where slots might go and whether they should be privately or publicly owned to whether casino-style gambling should be allowed in the state at all.

"The question that has not been sufficiently debated is whether gambling is the right thing for Maryland," Brown said.

Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat, said: "We don't want slots, period. It's a new game in Annapolis. This movement will not stop until this obsession with slot machines comes to an end."