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Baltimore County bill to ban developer donations fails

Baltimore County's state senators meet Monday night in Annapolis to vote on bills that would ban campaign contributions to County Council and county executive candidates and to change local liquor laws.
Baltimore County's state senators meet Monday night in Annapolis to vote on bills that would ban campaign contributions to County Council and county executive candidates and to change local liquor laws. (Pamela Wood / Baltimore Sun)

An effort to ban campaign contributions from developers in Baltimore County has failed in the General Assembly.

Baltimore County's state senators on Monday voted down a bill from Sen. Jim Brochin that would have banned developers, their agents and their immediate family members from giving money to candidates for the Baltimore County Council and county executive.

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Brochin, a Towson Democrat who is considering a run for county executive, said his bill would level the playing field for county residents and community groups, who often battle against well-funded developers and their attorneys.

He has said a "pay-to-play" situation exists in the county for developers. Development is a top issue in the growing county and members of the County Council hold unusually strong power over zoning and development decisions.

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"The deck is stacked against the average person and community associations," Brochin said.

But Brochin's Senate colleagues were not swayed.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Pikesville Democrat, said it's fundamentally unfair to restrict one class of people from making campaign donations, which are an expression of free speech.

"You don't pick and choose First Amendment rights on free speech based on who has money," Zirkin said.

Besides, Zirkin noted, sometimes fights are between rival developers, or sometimes the residents fighting a project are just as well-funded as the developers.

Brochin's bill would have gone into effect after the 2018 election. Anyone who applies for certain development or zoning approvals would not be allowed to make campaign donations while their application is pending, and they'd have to sign a document saying they hadn't made such donations in the prior three years.

A council member or executive who accepted donations related to pending projects would not be allowed to "vote or participate" in decisions on that project.

Brochin could only rally one other vote for his bill, from Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Dundalk Republican. Salling had agreed to co-sponsor the bill, but said he was "so split."

The bill was not introduced in the House of Delegates.

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