Assembly leaders propose to limit PAC donations Lobbyists would be barred from campaign fund raising


ANNAPOLIS -- To combat "the perception that democracy has been corrupted by special interests," the General Assembly's presiding officers formally proposed yesterday a first-ever limit in Maryland on PAC contributions and a ban on campaign fund raising by lobbyists.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, said they were acting in concert to assure Marylanders that elected representatives are responsive to their concerns.

Lately, considerable concern has grown in the legislature about the perception that lobbyists for special interests were too influential in the lawmaking process and in the election of candidates.

The comprehensive set of recommendations announced during a news conference in the State House would:

* Put an $8,000-limit on political action committee contributions and require PACs to be named in a fashion that accurately reflects their purpose.

* Require lobbyists to disclose all gifts, meals and presents to any official by name, place and amount. A similar requirement would be imposed on members of the executive branch, which would be required to report entertainment of legislators in pursuit of legislative goals.

* Increase individual contribution limits from $1,000 per candidate and $2,500 total for all candidates combined during a four-year cycle to $4,000 per candidate and $10,000 in the aggregate.

* Prohibit the sale of fund-raising tickets by lobbyists and bar them from serving as officers of political action committees or on a candidate's finance committee.

The bills will be introduced in both houses.

The House speaker and the Senate president were in agreement on the package of bills -- with one exception. Mr. Miller wants lobbyists banned from forming and managing their own PACs. Mr. Mitchell said he was concerned that such a prohibition might be unconstitutional. The attorney general, Mr. Miller said, has been asked to study the issue, but he will enter a bill of his own that would ban lobbyist PACs.

Common Cause of Maryland, the most persistent critic of the state's outdated campaign finance laws, immediately endorsed most of the proposals -- though it called the $8,000-cap on PACs too high.

"Four thousand dollars is the highest limit that should be passed," said Phil Andrews, executive director of Common Cause. The $8,000 cap is fine for statewide campaigns -- governor or attorney general, for example -- but should be half that for General Assembly races. Otherwise, he said, the already dangerous growth of campaign costs will continue.

Nevertheless, Mr. Andrews called the legislation "ambitious and comprehensive." He said it had an excellent chance of passage," given the backing of Mr. Miller and Mr. Mitchell.

In recent years, proposals for reform by a special gubernatorial commission and by assorted legislators have failed -- occasionally at the hands of Mr. Mitchell. Yesterday, the speaker said he had not thought the time and circumstances were proper until now.

The speaker said he thought that this year, the first in a four-year election cycle, provided an opportunity to put all elected officials and office seekers on the same footing.

The package also received the support, though somewhat less enthusiastically, from Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a business organization that issues a score card on how legislators vote on bills affecting business.

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