ANNAPOLIS – Politicians may cite the cost of running for office to justify massive money-raising efforts, but a Capital News Service study of two years’ expenditures by General Assembly leadership found that when the lawmakers weren’t giving campaign money to their peers, many were using it for flowers, gifts and rounds of golf.
Contributions to other campaigns accounted for 17 percent of the nearly 1.9 million the group spent during the 1994 and 1996 reporting years, records show. Leading lawmakers contributed $324,950 to other General Assembly incumbents and candidates for state, local and congressional races.
And in those same two years, the 19 lawmakers reported spending more than $26,049 for gifts, $6,032 for flowers and $5,000 for golf tournaments.
CNS limited its study to lawmakers who hold floor leadership positions or committee chairmanships. The reporters examined campaign finance disclosure reports from 1994, the last election year, and 1996, an “off” year, to compare spending habits.
Although the Legislature passed a bill this session requiring campaign committees to file electronically, the new law will not take effect until November 1999.
And so the reporters spent a week at the State Administrative Board of Election Laws hand-copying the reports. The transcriptions were checked twice for accuracy before being entered into a database, which was triple-checked against the hand-copied originals.
The subsequent computer analysis revealed the broad extent of activities that lawmakers consider legitimate campaign expenses.
Deborah Povich, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group Cause Maryland, thinks campaign contributors would look askance at much of what the study uncovered.
She was disturbed by the amounts leadership gave to other incumbents, saying lawmakers would develop allegiances to individuals instead of their parties. Contributions of money don’t come without strings, she said, noting that the payback can be votes on critical legislative issues.
“We decry the decline of the party,” Povich said.
And given that the more frivolous spending drives up expenditure totals, it discourages participation in politics, she said. More and more campaigns will be funded more and more and by wealthy interests, she predicted.
“I think political donors expect candidates to campaign with their money and not buy gifts, flowers and cosmetics,” she said.
But state law offers little guidance to those running for office.
“When you get down to some expenditures, it’s a gray line,” said Tom Krehely, assistant state’s prosecutor. “There are areas that fall into a gray area. The ultimate question is, `Does it benefit the campaign?'”
Contributions to other campaigns were the No. 1 expenditure category in 1994, reaching $294,450 for the 19 lawmakers. Individual spending here ranged from $388 to $122,050, with a median total of approximately $3,500.
Spending by only two — House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D- Prince George’s — outstripped that of the others combined.
Taylor ranked first, with a total of $122,050 in political contributions — 60 percent of his expenditures for the year. He said the donations helped bolster his position as House Speaker, a job he has held since 1994.
Miller donated $96,966 to other candidates, 48 percent of his total expenditures.
“I felt obliged to help out those who were not as able as I am to raise funds,” Miller said, adding that he gives money to “worthwhile” candidates regardless of party affiliation, “if they are hardworking and honest and can see beyond the district that they represent.”
Traditional campaign expenses made up significant shares of each lawmaker’s 1994 expenditures, with printing and campaign materials, fundraising, postage and ads topping the list. The lawmakers spent a combined $219,564 on printing and campaign materials, $158,323 on fundraising, $129,417 on postage and $129,016 for ads. Those categories combined accounted for 65 percent of total expenditures.
Data compiled by Common Cause indicate that incumbents spent more or slightly less in 1994 than did their combined challengers during the full 1990-’94 election cycle.
In close races, they tended to spend proportionately more on printing, advertising and postage. However, in races with little competition, incumbents tended to give to other candidates or use their money to raise more even more.
For example, in the 1994 Senate races, the three biggest spenders were Miller and Senators Thomas L. Bromwell and Norman R. Stone Jr., both Baltimore County Democrats.
That year, Miller spent $201,162 to defeat his challenger, who spent less than $4,000 from 1990 to 1994. Half Miller’s money went to other campaigns, including six incumbent state senators and two incumbent delegates. Fifteen percent of went to salaries and other compensation and nine percent to printing and campaign materials.
Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee, spent $160,946 in the single year — more than twice the total of his three challengers from 1990 to 1994. About a quarter of his expenditures were for printing and campaign materials, 18 percent for fundraising and 15 percent for newspaper, television and radio advertising
Stone, who is Senate president pro tem, spent $63,111 — slightly more than total of his three challengers during the four-year cycle. Thirty percent of his campaign expenditures went for printing and campaign materials, 25 percent for media-related advertising and 18 percent for postage.
In the House races, the top three spenders were Taylor and Delegates Howard P. Rawlings and Gerald J. Curran, Baltimore Democrats.
Taylor spent $200,413, but had no competition that spent more than $300. His giving to other candidates encompassed two incumbent senators and 31 incumbent delegates. Taylor spent 24 percent of his campaign expenditures on fundraising.
Rawlings, Appropriations Committee chairman, spent $155,156 in 1994. That was slightly less than the four-year total of his two fellow District 40 delegates and one general election challenger. About a quarter of Rawlings’ expenditures were for printing and campaign materials, while 14 percent went for postage and 12 percent for media-related advertising.
Curran, chairman of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee, spent $83,002 in 1994, about $400 less than the combined 1990-’94 spending of his two fellow District 43 delegates. Thirty-three percent was for direct mailing by a mail house, 18 percent for fundraising and 13 percent for printing and campaign materials.
In 1996, the off year, total campaign fund expenditures of the 19 lawmakers declined by 68 percent — to $457,567. Miller and Taylor again took top billing, with $116,179 and $105,523 respectively.
Fundraising expenditures — a combined $165,531 — made up the biggest single category.
Taylor spent $53,352, half of his total 1996 expenditures, on fundraising.
“You have to make money to finance a campaign,” he said, adding that fundraising ceases only when the General Assembly is in session, 90 days each year.
Taylor’s other 1996 expenditures included $16,381 for gifts, $10,405 in contributions to other candidates, $7,542 for ads and $3,575 for charities
Miller spent $39,146 on fundraising, $20,467 on salaries, $17,005 on printing and campaign materials, $8,775 on contributions to other candidates and $7,391 on miscellaneous “other” expenses.
Combined, the 19 lawmakers spent $31,458 on salaries for staff and consultants — the second largest category.
Contributions to other candidates, the No. 1 expenditure in 1994, dropped to No. 3 in ’96 — $30,455 combined.
Fourth in 1996 was charitable giving, which did not differ appreciably in the two years. It totalled $28,941 in 1996 and $28,104 in 1994.
Printing and campaign materials rounded out the top five 1996 expenditure categories, totalling $28,299.
House Majority Leader Del. John A. Hurson, D-Montgomery, co- sponsored several campaign finance reform measures in 1997.
“I don’t think there’s been a lot of attention paid to how people use their funds,” Hurson said in response to the CNS findings. “I think the public is actually more concerned with the contribution side. They want to make sure people are not giving money to influence us on the legislative side.” -30-