ANNAPOLIS – The Senate Tuesday passed the first of several proposed campaign finance reforms, a bill to allow more timely access to the identities of those who donate money just before the General Assembly begins each year.
Now those donations aren’t disclosed until seven months after the session’s end.
About $1.35 million was contributed to state lawmakers from November to January, just before the 2000 session started, according to a Common Cause of Maryland report. The Maryland General Assembly meets from mid-January to mid-April each year.
Advocates argue the public should know who is contributing money before lawmaking happens.
“This long delay in reporting contributions in the interim period close to the legislative session undermines the intent of that law and dramatically weakens the effectiveness of disclosure,” said Janet Levine, president of Common Cause of Maryland.
Contributions are prohibited during the legislative session to prevent possible conflicts of interest.
The Senate vote was 37 to 8, with vocal opposition.
Many lawmakers said the public didn’t care about the bill, only media and watchdog groups out to accuse lawmakers of wrongdoing at every turn.
“We’re changing this date because someone has said we’re doing something wrong,” said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s. “Are we going to let the media determine what’s best for us?”
Many lawmakers said there was no difference between their late- year fund-raisers and those the rest of the year.
Some legislators also said the change would burden their volunteer treasurers.
The date change would make the treasurer’s job more difficult, said Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Cambridge, after consulting his treasurer about the change.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Collins, D-Baltimore County, reminded senators that the bill only changed a reporting deadline, it did not add reports.
A sponsor of a similar bill argued its merits. “It is an accountability bill,” said Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery. “The people have a right to know.”
The measure now awaits action in the House, where a similar bill has been heard. It would require lawmakers to submit a contribution report for the disputed period only if a lawmaker receives more than $5,000 during that time.
Other campaign finance reform bills under review include a study of public funding of campaigns and a measure to require employer and occupation disclosures from donors.
The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee has not moved on the disclosure measure. The committee killed an identical bill last year.
The Senate is scheduled to debate the study bill Wednesday.
To not move forward is like ignoring what happened at Enron, said Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, the bill’s sponsor. Pinsky became especially concerned about the issue after hearing of the existence of an Enron computer program. The bankrupt energy trading company used the program to track legislation and alert lobbyists to pending laws that would affect their company financially.
“If you don’t think this is broken,” Pinsky said, “you’re nuts.”