Rising tide for campaign reform Funding changes: In Washington and in Annapolis, fresh proposals seek to rewrite the rules for how candidacies are financed.; CAMPAIGN 1996


THIS APPARENTLY is the year for campaign finance reform, given the recent spate of legislation on Capitol Hill and in the Maryland State House.

On the federal level, Maryland's own 3rd District Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is co-sponsor of the House's so-called "Bipartisan Clean Congress Act," which is chock full of finance reforms -- including an effort to ban political action committees.

Mr. Cardin, who as Maryland's House speaker in the 1980s was the impetus behind the state's earlier campaign finance reforms, is getting major kudos from Common Cause, the self-styled government watchdog group, and a host of others.

Common Cause President Ann McBride is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday in North Baltimore, to thank Mr. Cardin and another of the bill's prime sponsors, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican. Ms. McBride also is expected to call for other members of the Maryland delegation to sign on.

"This legislation would control the spiraling costs of campaigns, reduce the influence of special interest money and increase competition among candidates," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

Highlights of the legislation, a comprehensive reform measure, include:

* Setting spending limits for candidates' campaigns.

* Banning PAC contributions. (If an overall ban were declared unconstitutional, the legislation would instead cut the PAC contribution limit from $5,000 to $1,000 an election and restrict PAC contributions to 25 percent of the spending limit.)

* Slashing from $1,000 to $100 the contribution limits from lobbyists for each election.

* Banning soft money, those donations to state parties that are used to pay for candidates' phone banks, literature and voter registration drives, but do not count against federal limits on campaign donations.

* Giving a 50 percent discount on television and radio time to those candidates who agree to abide by spending limits, and provide for discount postal rates for three campaign mailings.

* Prohibiting a candidate from accepting more than 25 percent of the spending limit in contributions of more than $250.

* Requiring that candidates raise 60 percent of their campaign funds from contributors from their home state.

Already on board behind the legislation are The League of Women Voters and United We Stand America.

"The public is fed up with the status quo and are interested in seeing the political control shifted back to the electorate, away from the special interests that dominate the campaign funding process," Ms. Povich said.

On the state level, just last week, Del. John Adams Hurson, the Maryland House majority leader from Montgomery County, took the lead in sponsoring legislation to control the costs of legislative election campaigns by establishing public financing for General Assembly races.

The bill would allow candidates to qualify for state matching funds if they agreed to spending limits: about $150,000 for a Senate race and $75,000 to run for the House of Delegates. The measure also would force candidates to accept no more than 20 percent of their money PACs.

To raise money to cover the matching funds, the bill would repeal a sales tax exemption for direct-mail advertising published in Maryland but distributed out of state.

Former Democratic director back for Clinton campaign

She's ba-aaack.

Kathleen M. "Kate" Head, the former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, has returned to the Free State as director of the Clinton-Gore effort for the March 5 primary (such as it is).

Ms. Head, who in her former capacity ran the Democrats' statewide "coordinated campaign" in the 1994 governor's race, is just back from a year in Russia, where she worked as an elections adviser for the National Democratic Institute, part of the U.S. pro-democracy effort.

"I couldn't eat borscht forever," she said.

Ms. Head's appearance is the first sighting of Clinton-Gore workers in the state, as the campaign dusts off the machinery for the primary, looking toward the November fight against the GOP. In the Democratic primary, President Clinton should make quick work of his only opposition, political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.

Mr. Clinton, whose 1992 margin of victory against President Bush in Maryland was second only to that in his home state of Arkansas, is faring well in polls here. At this point, still nine months out, surveys have shown him the winner against any of Republican hopefuls.

"The most exciting part of this campaign is the enthusiasm of the elected officials and party activists," Ms. Head said.

She apparently is still suffering from jet lag -- or culture shock.

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