WASHINGTON – Two Democratic legislators will continue raising money during the 90-day General Assembly for their planned federal campaigns against Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda.
Delegate Mark Shriver and Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., both Montgomery County Democrats, have congressional fund-raising events scheduled over the next few months, their campaign managers said.
While there is a ban on in-session fund raising for state office, state legislators running for a federal or county office are permitted to accept money during the legislative session.
Managers of both campaigns said there is no reason not to be raising money now and that they cannot afford to wait until April to start up again.
“Morella is raising money as we speak and legislating in Washington,” said Bret Wask, Van Hollen’s campaign manager. “If Shriver or Van Hollen were not allowed to raise money during the months they are in session, they would be put at a disadvantage toward Connie.”
The ban on fund raising for state campaigns was put in place because there could be “an appearance of a conflict of interest” if donations came from someone with business before the Legislature, said William Somerville, a staffer on the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.
But state legislators running for a federal or county office are permitted to accept money during the legislative session, Somerville said.
“Is it a loophole? In a way it is,” he said. “But one that accommodates a specific problem.”
Somerville said federal campaign fund raising is not banned because primary elections in presidential years fall during the Maryland legislative session. This year, however, the primary is in September.
“It would be a significant disadvantage for legislators running for U.S. Congress or U.S. Senate not to be able to raise money for that primary,” Somerville said.
Shriver has raised $1.4 million, said campaign manager Kim Elliott, but will continue to raise the funds for what he expects to be a hard primary.
“This race is going to cost at least $2.5 million. We need to raise that much,” she said. Shriver has a March 3 fund raiser, a joint birthday party for the delegate and his daughter.
Elliott said Shriver is aware that federal campaign fund raising now could present a conflict of interest. “Mark has said he will not take money from any registered lobbyist in Maryland during the session even though he’s allowed to,” she said.
Wask said Van Hollen is in session 12 hours a day in Annapolis during the week, but continues his fund raising on the weekends. His next event is scheduled for Feb. 10.
James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said federal campaign fund raising during the session could present a conflict of interest. However, federal campaigns are so expensive that a ban would only begin to address the problems of financing such races.
Not only does in-session fund raising present the potential for a conflict of interest, it also takes up time legislators could be spending with constituents, Browning said.
“Any member of the assembly who is running for Congress is juggling several balls at once. Fund raising is the bowling ball,” Browning said. “Public financing of campaigns at the federal and state levels would take the bowling ball out of the act and free candidates up to meet with their constituents.”
Deborah Vollmer, another Democratic hopeful in the 8th District race, agreed that the bigger issue is the need for publicly financed campaigns. “That way candidates can be judged on their qualifications,” she said.
Delegate Kenneth C. Montague Jr., chairman of the ethics committee, said federal campaign fund raising could present a conflict similar to that presented by in-session fund raising for state office. But Maryland probably could not ban it anyway, he said.
“We really do not have the jurisdiction to compromise the federal election process. They have their own rules,” Montague said.