House delegates vowed to seek limits to the amount of contributions that candidates can label as "lump sum" payments, a description that denies citizens a thorough look at campaign finances.

Maryland's campaign finance system allows candidates to bundle together contributions of under $51 without disclosing donor information. Although legal, the State Board of Elections and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler discourage the practice.


A Baltimore Sun examination published Sunday found that heavy users of lump sum reporting logged more than $300,000 in unidentified contributions in the four-year election cycle that ended in December.

In all, candidates -- Democrats and Republicans alike from across the state -- and political action committees reported $4.3 million in lump sums, about 3 percent of all political contributions.

This year and last, the House of Delegates has passed legislation to limit lump sum reporting to $25,000 per cycle. The bills, sponsored by Del. John A. Olszewski Jr., did not make it to the Senate floor.

"What you have is a system that cuts against all that it is trying to accomplish with transparency and access to records," Olszewski, a Baltimore County Democrat, said in an interview last week.

The $25,000 limitation would affect only a few top-level users of lump sums, including Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat, and Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey, a Democrat.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and former St. Mary's County Commissioner Kenny Dement, Republicans, also reported more than $25,000 in lump sums during the 2010 election cycle.

Del. Jon S. Cardin, chairman of the House election-law subcommittee, said delegates plan to push again next year for lump sum limits. The Baltimore County Democrat called it a "good government" issue that merits quick action.

The General Assembly this year approved a commission to study campaign finance issues. Loopholes such as the lump sum label, limited liability corporation giving and transfers among political slates are expected to be some of the focus areas.

Commission members will be appointed in the next few weeks.

Are your elected officials identifying campaign money as lump sums? Search our database. The Sun's editorial board weighs in on lump sum contributions here.