Two top Republican legislators rejected endorsements from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce yesterday to protest the chamber's policy of backing only incumbents.
Del. Robert H. Kittleman, the House GOP Leader, and Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House GOP whip, said the chamber is worried mainly about buying "access" to legislators. Its incumbents-only policy undermines efforts to make the General Assembly more friendly to business, they said.
By overlooking challengers -- particularly Republicans -- Kittleman and Flanagan said, the chamber is missing an opportunity to balance the financial backing that labor unions and trial lawyers traditionally give Democrats.
"The chamber should stand up to the plate and support the people who are going to create more jobs," said Kittleman, who, like Flanagan, is from Howard County. "I think they are so afraid of maybe offending somebody that they don't want to get involved."
Flanagan said, "We think that the chamber is making a big mistake. The chamber's plan here is really an incumbent-protection plan."
The chamber has never endorsed candidates, but it plans to announce endorsements Monday of nearly half of the incumbent Maryland senators and delegates, chamber President Champe C. McCulloch explained.
The endorsements do not include money from the chamber, but they are intended to guide members in their political giving. Endorsed candidates receive names and information for contact-
ing chamber members.
McCulloch declined to say which party received more endorsements, but Democrats dominate the General Assembly.
No challengers were eligible, McCulloch said, because the chamber board of directors based its endorsements on the legislative records of candidates, each of whom was rated on several dozen issues over the past four years.
"The purpose had everything to do with recognizing incumbents who supported our agenda," McCulloch said. "It's just a different focus, I guess."
He also disputed the suggestion that the chamber is seeking to buy access via endorsement.
"You can't buy access," he said. "Because it's the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, we do have access. There is not a legislator here who will not listen to our point of view."
Kittleman and Flanagan said the chamber ought to act like other interest groups by helping challengers who might some day help the chamber. Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Baltimore County Republican, rejected the chamber's endorsement for the same reason, McCulloch said.
Kittleman said, "Either they ought to participate meaningfully or not do it."
Pub Date: 7/09/98