ANNAPOLIS – Ocean Downs race track owner William Rickman was connected to about $185,000 given to Maryland lawmakers through a network of business subsidiaries and family, a recent study shows. Now a new bill would make such complex contributions easier to track.
The legislation proposed by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, would require campaigns to list the occupation and employer of any campaign contributor who donates more than $251.
Rickman, a slot machine proponent who is associated with campaign donations made through 14 different sources, stands to benefit from installation of 1,500 machines at a proposed Allegany County race track, planned under Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s bill to legalize slots.
Maryland caps total contributions from individuals to a candidate at $4,000, with a $10,000 total during an election cycle. While Rickman did nothing wrong, proponents of SB 259 say loopholes and creative fund-raising allow Rickman and other contributors to skirt state limits.
Rickman contributed $7,840 during the last election cycle, including a $5,000 donation to the state Democratic Central Committee, according to a study released Monday by Common Cause Maryland. Counting donations from his family, the amount jumps to $25,465 and increases again by $158,100 when donations from Rickman’s companies are included, according to the report.
“What do all of these contributions buy?” asked James Browning, Common Cause executive director, in the report. “Anyone who has ever seen a fund-raiser invitation offering admission for a price, a seat at a VIP table for a larger price and a private reception with the candidate for a still larger price knows that money buys access.”
Rickman could not be reached for comment.
There are many others like Rickman who need to be identified, said Pinsky, the bill’s primary sponsor.
“We have to be able to track who gives and see if you have 20 different givers from the same company because it has implications,” Pinsky said. “If you have 50 contributors giving $250 from one company I think the public ought to know.”
Federal law requires candidates to disclose the job and employer of any contributor donating more than $200. Other states have similar disclosure laws.
“This would simply bring Maryland into the mainstream,” said Sean Dobson, Progressive Maryland’s deputy director. “These contributors are already being outed anyway.”
Progressive, a public interest group advocating campaign finance reform, regularly compiles reports on national contributions to state campaigns. Legislation, said Dobson, is “long overdue.”
Similar bills have died in committee each year since 1997. Some lawmakers may have voted against the bill to keep campaign costs down or cut back on campaign-financing bureaucracy, said Sen. Andrew Harris, R- Harford, a bill co-sponsor. He said he is unsure how the bill will fare this session.
Pinsky is also sponsoring a bill to extend the time a commission has to study public financing of campaigns in Maryland. He said he’d prefer publicly financed campaigns, but “until we get that, I think we have to be able to track who gives” money. “They say, `follow the money,’ and I think you need to follow the money up here,” Pinsky said. “I think it plays a sullying role to politics and government when so much private money is being used to try and (buy) influence.” – 30 – CNS-2-5-03