Duncan Proposes New Limits On Campaign Contributions

Douglas M. Duncan says his proposals are designed to end a perception that
Douglas M. Duncan says his proposals are designed to end a perception that "money drives policy" in Maryland. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is set today to announce a proposal that would block the state from doing significant business with companies that contribute campaign cash to politicians who control Maryland's purse strings and to political parties.

Duncan, a Democratic candidate for governor, would press for legislation as Maryland's chief executive that he believes would restore confidence in a state government system "that is broken and in desperate need of repair" and end the perception that "money drives policy," he said in a statement yesterday.

The proposal also takes aim at state utility regulators, who have come under scrutiny because of rising electricity rates in Maryland. Utilities regulated by the Public Service Commission, such as Pepco and Constellation Energy Group, would be prohibited from contributing to the governor as a way to get "the politics out of the PSC." The governor appoints the members of the commission.

On the campaign trail, Duncan has sought to portray his opponents -- Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) -- as beholden to the interests of Constellation Energy Group, the parent company of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. The company's customers in central Maryland are bracing for a 72 percent rate increase, and Duncan has challenged his rivals to join him in returning campaign money from the company and its employees.

Campaign finance records from 1999 to 2005 show that O'Malley received at least $56,570 and Ehrlich received $68,846. Duncan returned $3,205 to the company but has not returned at least $12,750 he received from Pepco, the utility that serves most of Montgomery County.

A spokesman for O'Malley said the county executive's proposal is intended to rehabilitate Duncan's image after reports that he received $20,000 in contributions linked to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Duncan has said he plans to return the money, which arrived when the county was weighing whether to lease a building to a private religious school Abramoff supported. Duncan has said there was no quid pro quo.

"Instead of lecturing the rest of the state about campaign ethics, Mr. Duncan should immediately enact legislation like this in his own county," said O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.

Duncan's plan, modeled on a New Jersey law passed last year, would stop the state from awarding contracts of more than $10,000 to companies that have donated to the governor, the state comptroller or any state political party committee. The measure would not take effect until 2009.

Harry Pozycki of New Jersey, who is chairman of the group Citizens Campaign and who helped draft that state's measure, said the law has already had "a major impact on the culture of corruption" and has prompted renewed interest in the public financing of campaigns. A report by the Star-Ledger of Newark found an 86 percent reduction in campaign contributions from state contractors to a political action committee controlled by the governor.

Maryland political party leaders expressed concern yesterday that such limitations would add another hurdle to their fundraising efforts.

"Clean, ethical government that serves the public interest is a core Democratic value. However, we cannot escape the stark reality that communicating with voters has become an increasingly expensive enterprise," said Derek Walker, executive director of the Maryland Democratic party.

Bobbie Walton, executive director of the campaign reform group Common Cause Maryland, applauded Duncan's effort, but she questioned his practices as the county's leader.

"If he is trying to control state-level contractor contributions, why did he take money from contractors doing business with Montgomery County?" Walton asked.

Research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

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