FREDERICK -- In a setback for the state Republican Party, a judge ruled yesterday that any money the party spends on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey will count against her $1 million spending limit.
But Frederick County Circuit Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. said the party's county committees, as well as other GOP candidates, BTC may spend freely for Mrs. Sauerbrey.
Both sides said they were pleased with the ruling, which appears to end a dispute between Republicans and the state attorney general's office over Maryland's one-time experiment with public campaign financing.
The public financing law, enacted in 1974 but not put into use until this election, offers taxpayer funds to qualifying candidates for governor. Mrs. Sauerbrey, by accepting the money, agreed to a spending limit of about $1 million.
At issue yesterday was an opinion by the attorney general's office that although unaffiliated groups could spend money to promote Mrs. Sauerbrey without those funds counting toward her limit, the state Republican Party could not. It would be "nonsensical" to suggest that the state party could make truly independent expenditures on her behalf, the opinion said.
Testimony yesterday showed that the state GOP has been regularly talking strategy with Mrs. Sauerbrey's campaign. In light of that, Judge Dwyer said, the party's expenditures must be counted against her spending limit.
"That was the central issue in the case," said Deputy Attorney General Ralph Tyler.
Lawyers for the Republicans and Mrs. Sauerbrey argued that the rules as interpreted by the attorney general's office unfairly prohibited the GOP from supporting its standard-bearer.
In response, Mr. Tyler said: "They can express their views. But they have to live in a world where their nominee agreed to accept public financing."
Democrat Parris N. Glendening did not accept public financing and is thus not bound by any spending limits.
Judge Dwyer did say that other Republican candidates could spend money on Mrs. Sauerbrey's behalf.
He also ruled that the 24 local Republican central committees are not under the same constraints as the state party. That frees them to spend on Mrs. Sauerbrey's behalf, as long as the expenditures are done independently of her campaign.