Delegates pass PAC limits, end lobbyists' fund raising


ANNAPOLIS -- The House of Delegates passed legislation yesterday that would bar lobbyists from campaign fund raising and set the first-ever limits on political action committee contributions to Maryland candidates.

Driven by the conviction that voters want more distance between wealthy contributors and lawmakers, the reform bills moved through the House with virtually no opposition.

Yesterday's vote was another step toward actually reclaiming the process -- or countering the perception that lawmaking is heavily influenced by forces outside the legislature, according to House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent. Mr. Mitchell, long an opponent of campaign finance reform, co-sponsored the legislation with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's.

Some delegates grumbled to House leaders privately about efforts to interfere with fund raising by putting clamps on lobbyists. Few spoke openly against the bill, however, and only one was willing to oppose the measures yesterday on the final vote.

Several influential lobbyists said -- also privately -- that they welcomed some relief from the fund-raising heat exerted by legislators who routinely sent them tickets costing as much as $250 each.

The bill now goes to the Senate where a similar measure seems assured of passage, although proponents are predicting a floor fight to set the PAC limits at a higher level.

As passed by the House yesterday, the limits are the same as those sent to the floor of the Senate by the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee: $4,000 in state Senate or House races and $8,000 in a statewide race -- governor or attorney general, for example.

The Senate bill proposes less demanding disclosure requirements on spending by lobbyists. Under the House bill, anything above $10 per day spent on a legislator by a lobbyist would be reported; the legislator's name and the name of the lobbyist buying dinner or any other thing of value would be included.

The Senate's version of the bill retains current reporting requirements, which have been criticized for their failure to show in sufficient detail what corporations and their representatives spend as they wine and dine the General Assembly.

"It would be unfortunate for the Senate to miss this opportunity for real reform and pass cosmetic reform instead," said Philip Andrews, executive director of Maryland Common Cause.

Although few candidates received as much as $4,000 from a PAC during last year's race, Mr. Andrews said he believed that the fund-raising game would continue to be ratcheted up unless controls were set in place. No other state currently limits lobbyist fund raising as comprehensively as the bill passed yesterday, Mr. Andrews said.

In what was called an effort to give the voter more power in the contribution game, individual contributors could give as much as $5,000 to a single candidate -- up from the current $2,000 limit. The limit had not been raised in more than 20 years, according to Delegate Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, chairwoman of the Committee on Constitutional and Administrative Law.

Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Anne Arundel, the lone vote against the bill, said yesterday he favors disclosure of contributions but not limits.

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