Who's enforcing state election laws? No one: Individuals, jTC companies exceed donations limit without fear of being caught.


THE CLOSER Sun reporters look into campaign filings at the state election board, the clearer it becomes Maryland's election law apparatus has broken down. There is no systematic enforcement of donation limits, and precious little prosecution.

Reporters William F. Zorzi Jr. and Walter F. Roche Jr. discovered that at least seven individuals and companies -- including Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and bakery entrepreneur John Paterakis -- had exceeded Maryland's $10,000 limit on political donations in a four-year cycle. Earlier, reporter Michael Dresser noted how bankrupt businessman Brian H. Davis had grossly violated the donations law by giving $250,000 to political candidates.

And the enforcers? They're busy denying responsibility. Too much paperwork, explains elections board administrator Gene M. Raynor. Not enough staff or time, complains state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli.

If these two officers aren't responsible for finding out who is breaking the law -- and prosecuting them -- then who is?

The answer is no one. It is a disgraceful situation that both the governor and the legislature have encouraged by failing to give either office the manpower, the equipment or the money to track down violators of state election laws.

Most imperative: Computerizing the elections board operation and requiring politicians to submit campaign finance reports on computer disks. That is the best way to collate hundreds of thousands of political donations. It also makes it much simpler for journalists and public-interest groups to serve as unofficial campaign finance watchdogs.

More frequent filings are essential, too -- right up to the eve of an election. With computerized lists, the public will know almost immediately if something funny is going on.

These steps would also make it easier for the state prosecutor to pursue violators during the two-year statute of limitations.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening says he favors campaign finance reform, but he put no money in his budget to pay for it. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor and Senate President Mike Miller have introduced their own bills, but that won't matter if a computerized filing system is delayed because there's no appropriation.

Meaningful, comprehensible election-law reform cannot be ignored. Failure to enact such measures this session would be inexcusable.

Pub Date: 1/27/97

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