By John O’Connor
ANNAPOLIS – Former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell took advantage of a quirk in state election law to donate more than $100,000 to two election committee funds this year, according to documents filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections.
The donations – $75,000 to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.’s Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee and $30,000 to The Eighth District Slate – came from Bromwell’s personal campaign fund and exceeded the state’s $6,000 donation limit for slate committees.
But Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, has not broken any laws, said Terry Holliday, deputy director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance, because he is still listed as a candidate on both committees’ slates, even though he resigned from the Senate May 24.
The contributions point up another reason why the state needs campaign finance reform, critics say.
“We think the slate loophole makes a mockery of campaign finance laws in Maryland,” said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “It kind of creates an incumbent protection.”
Incumbents and big business, said Browning, benefit from the current system. Candidates should avoid contributions from sources that skirt the law, he said.
“That’s dirty money in a way,” Browning said.
State Republicans, too, oppose slate funds because money from outside a candidate’s district may influence that campaign.
“One has to ask `What do they get in return?'” said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “What do those candidates have to promise?”
The state needs more open disclosure laws and to close existing loopholes, he said.
Bromwell, who left the Senate to take a job with the Injured Workers Insurance Fund, did not run for re-election to his 8th District seat. He remains on the two committees’ slates, said Holliday, because he has not filed paperwork to remove his name. Bromwell is a candidate for the state Democratic Central Committee.
Slate committees pool money to distribute to a group of registered candidates as needed. Because they support multiple candidates, their donation limit is $6,000, well above the $2,000 cap for individual candidate committees.
Because he remains on the slate as a “candidate,” Bromwell may make unlimited donations to his own campaign, according to state campaign finance laws.
Bromwell told colleagues he planned to leave the Senate in mid-April, but the donation to Miller’s committee came April 23 and The Eighth District Slate money arrived on June 6 and July 23, well after Bromwell resigned on May 24.
Donating the money, said Bromwell, was a promise he had to keep.
“I’m distributing some dollars during this election,” he said. “Before I left the Senate I made a commitment to the Senator (Miller). You make a commitment, you make a commitment. I could have walked away and not given anything.”
The Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee spent $75,000 this year, including more than $48,000 on polling and voter data, according to Board of Elections expense reports. The remaining money paid for election materials and overhead costs.
Miller, D-Calvert, did not return calls seeking comment.
Closing loopholes, said one state senator, will never work – the entire system needs to change.
Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, successfully pushed for a study of publicly financed campaigns in the last General Assembly session. While he would not comment on Bromwell’s donations, he did say questionable donations – whether legal or not – contribute to disconnect between voters and government.
“Do people pile money?” Pinsky said. “Absolutely. When you’re in a position of power do people come calling? Absolutely. And it’s wrong.”
Campaign finance should not be under the purview of incumbents, Pinsky said, and there should be more opportunities for outsiders.
“There should be a level playing field for challengers, for third parties,” he said. Bromwell has another campaign finance issue. His campaign has yet to file any finance reports this year due to the death of longtime treasurer – and the man appointed to fill his seat – John R. Schneider at the end of August. Campaign finance reports filed last November, the latest available, show the former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee had more than $300,000 remaining in his election fund. Bromwell estimated his fund now contains $130,000 and said he does not plan to close his committee in case he decides to run for office again. Once a candidate closes his or her campaign fund, according to state law, the surplus may not be donated to another candidate.