ANNAPOLIS – Three Montgomery County Democrats hope to stem what they see as a wave of political corruption by prohibiting campaign contributions from organized gambling interests.
House Bill 105 would prohibit anyone involved in the gaming industry from contributing to Maryland political campaigns, said Delegate Luiz Simmons, D- Montgomery, the bill’s primary sponsor.
The bill is designed to head off a “tidal wave of political corruption” that would result from legalized slot machines in Maryland, Simmons said.
Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is relying on slot machine revenue to help close next year’s $1.3 billion budget deficit. His bill, unveiled Thursday, would put 10,500 slot machines at four race tracks across the state.
“My concern is people who get the (slot machine) licenses will turn around the next morning and try to expand gambling in Maryland,” Simmons said.
The bill targets anyone holding a slot machine license or anyone “affiliated with” such a license holder from contributing to political campaigns in Maryland. It also would preclude casino owners from contributing, under the assumption casinos could crop up in Maryland, Simmons said.
“We might as well be out of business,” said Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club. “It may demonstrate how little, as a whole, the Legislature knows about” horse racing in Maryland.
Slots opponents have introduced many bills in the General Assembly, including a measure to place a one-year moratorium on slots legislation with 71 sponsors in the House of Delegates.
Anti-slots legislation “jumps the gun” on legalized gambling in Maryland, Capps said. HB 105 was introduced one week before Ehrlich unveiled his proposal.
Legislators need to better evaluate the issue, Capps said. It is unlikely slots advocates contributed more than other interests in last year’s elections, he said.
Gambling interests contributed more than $300,000 to Maryland campaigns, according to a Common Cause Maryland study to be released Monday. Gaming interests gave $150,000 to Ehrlich’s campaign, $75,000 to his Democratic opponent Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and more than $33,000 to other Democratic campaigns. The other $42,000 went to powerful lawmakers, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery; Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley; and former House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who lost his race in November.
“What the study shows is the breadth of support for gambling – a lot of people with deep pockets want to bring slot machines into the state,” said James Browning, Common Cause Maryland executive director. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”
The study tracked contributions from the Jockey Club, Cloverleaf Associates – which represents Rosecroft Raceway — and other organized gambling interests.
“I thought the (U.S.) Supreme Court ruled on this as political speech,” said Bill Pitcher, a lobbyist for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. “What would (Simmons) think if we did the same thing for trial lawyers?”
Maryland campaign finance disclosure laws are already tight enough to prevent lobbyists from influencing lawmakers with contributions, he said.
Similar Louisiana and New Jersey laws were models for the bill, and they have withstood court challenges.
The bill’s legal footing is steady, said House Majority Kumar Barve, D- Montgomery.
“There’s a great amount of case law that relates to increased regulation of contributors when they have a vested interest,” said Barve, a bill co-sponsor with Simmons and Delegate Nancy King, D-Montgomery.
The bill is in the House Ways and Means Committee. Simmons and members of Common Cause will discuss the bill and unveil the report at a press conference Monday.
“My fear is Maryland politics will be capsized by gambling,” Simmons said. The bill will “hopefully retard the march toward the expansion of gambling.” – 30 – CNS-1-31-03