Name games


District 30 House of Delegates candidates Joan Beck and Del. Phillip Bissett recently found themselves victims of one of the screwiest election laws on Maryland's books.

On Sept. 2, two Annapolis citizens -- apparently supporters of unsuccessful District 30 House candidate Michael T. Brown -- went to the state Board of Elections and formed a political action committee called, "Vision Team '94 -- Bissett, Beck and Brown."

Campaign signs touting the three Republicans as a slate soon sprang up around the district, much to the shock and dismay of Mr. Bissett and Mrs. Beck, who never consented to such a PAC and, in fact, knew absolutely nothing about it until it was too late. A form filed with the PAC registration acknowledged it was not authorized by the candidates.

Other than file disclaimers with the elections board, there isn't a thing Mrs. Beck and Mr. Bissett can do to keep this PAC from raising money and campaigning in their names.

It's all perfectly legal. Anyone can create a PAC and slap a candidate's name on it without his or her consent, regardless of whether the candidate supports the cause for which the PAC was formed and agrees to be part of it.

In this case, the PAC's application says it was formed to encourage recruitment of women and blacks to the GOP, a cause few candidates would protest being associated with. But what if you support gun control and suddenly find your name on a pro-gun PAC with other pro-gun candidates? That could happen under this law. It's ridiculously unfair.

Mrs. Beck and Mr. Bissett promise that if elected they'll sponsor legislation to stop this practice. If they can't, someone else should. The existing law is nothing more than a way for weak candidates and unethical activists to steal credibility from better-known, more respected politicians. Besides being unfair to candidates who become targets of this practice, it's misleading to voters, who assume a politician supports something or someone to which his name has been attached.

How and why the state allowed the unauthorized use of candidates' names on PACs in the first place is a mystery. At any rate, what happened in District 30 shows that the law ought to be changed. Ordinary citizens have the right to control the use of their own names. So should candidates for public office.

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