ANNAPOLIS – A bill to publicly finance Maryland legislative campaigns was gutted by its own sponsor to get it through a House of Delegates committee and to the full chamber Monday.
Now, the measure would create a task force to study public campaign finance and make recommendations to the General Assembly by Dec. 31. The revised measure handily passed the Commerce and Government Matters Committee.
Majority Leader John Hurson, D-Montgomery, the bill’s primary sponsor, offered the amendment as a compromise measure, and because there were intricacies of the law not addressed by the bill.
“There were dangers in putting an incomplete bill on the floor of the House,” Hurson said.
Without the amendment, committee Chairman John Wood, D-St. Mary’s, may not have brought the bill up for a committee vote. Wood was openly opposed to the bill, although 13 of the 22 committee members were co-sponsors.
“It was a case of that (study) or nothing,” Wood said.
As for the original version, he said: “I don’t like it, I don’t think we need it . . . It’s taking away the choice of the public to support who they want to support.”
The amended bill was approved by the committee, 13-4, with all yeas from co-sponsors. The full House of Delegates adopted the committee report later that day, queuing it for a final vote probably later this week.
Hurson has called this bill his main legislative priority. He brought in some very high profile guests to boost his efforts – most notably U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
McCain and Feingold made a whistle-stop in Annapolis on March 16, to promote their own campaign finance bill, now in its second week of debate in the U.S. Senate. Hurson had hoped the political “rock-stars” would encourage reluctant Republicans as well as Democrats to support his measure.
Key Republicans, such as Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard, had signed on to the bill as a way to help Republican challengers in a state where incumbent Democrats control the field.
One Republican also may be the key to passing Hurson’s bill in the Senate, where a similar measure was killed by the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. Two of the three Republicans in the Senate committee voted against that bill, but Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County, passed, and could swing the decision.
Harris was warm to the concept of campaign finance, but wanted to see some changes to the original bill, such as so-called paycheck protection that would allow union members to opt out of political contributions connected to their dues. The study commission measure, however, leaves him cold. It’s the same old top-down approach to problem solving, he said.
The original bill would have created a voluntary system of public financing, in which a candidate would raise a limited amount of “seed money” in donations of $100 or less. That candidate would then qualify for public funds, and abide by a spending limit.
The amended bill creates a 19-member panel, including delegates, senators and gubernatorial appointees. It would scrutinize public financing in other states, necessary changes to the election code and the role of large corporate, union and private donors.
– 30 – CNS-3-27-01