Odds favor campaign-spending bills


After failed attempts in recent years, the General Assembly may finally be ready to impose a limit on PAC contributions and curb campaign spending by lobbyists.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. unveiled a package of bills yesterday that would mandate the changes and force more public disclosure of campaign spending.

One legislative source said some senators and delegates have expressed reservations about the proposals. But the backing of Mitchell and Miller seems to give the measures a better than average chance of passage.

"It's going from the press conference to the governor's desk," quipped one lobbyist about how speedily the package could be enacted with the support of the legislative leaders.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has not publicly committed himself on the package, an aide said.

The measures would:

* Change the amount that individuals can contribute to campaigns over the four-year "election cycle." Currently, an individual can donate up to $1,000 each to a candidate's primary and general election campaigns up to a maximum of $2,500 for all candidates. Those limits would be raised to $4,000 and $10,000.

* Limit political action committees, known as PACS, to $8,000 in contributions to any single candidate. Maryland now places no limits on PAC contributions.

* Ban lobbyists from campaign fund-raising.

* Require lobbyists to disclose all gifts and meals to any official by name, place and amount. Current law requires lobbyists to report their total giving, but not the recipients in most cases. Similarly, members of the executive branch would be subject to the requirement. They would have to report the money they spent attempting to influence legislators.

The proposals would affect state, county and Baltimore elected offices. Campaigns for Congress and other federal offices are governed by federal law.

"We take this very seriously and we take the institutions we serve very seriously," said Miller, D-Prince George's.

In recent years, similar legislation has fared well in the Senate but failed in the House largely because of opposition from Mitchell, D-Eastern Shore.

But Mitchell said yesterday that he now supports the proposals. His past opposition was based, in part, on a desire not to change the rules in the midst of a legislative term, he said.

"When you do it, you should change the law at the beginning of a term so that everyone is playing by the same rules," Mitchell said.

All the members of Maryland's House and Senate are elected every four years.

Phil Andrews, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, a citizen lobbying group, said the proposals would put Maryland at the forefront of regulating campaign spending. Maryland is now about average among the states, he said.

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