A rush before Md. legislative session cuts off fundraising

By John Wagner
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Maryland lawmakers are not allowed to raise campaign funds during their annual legislative session. But they make up for it in the days before they convene -- particularly in a spirited election year like this one.

At last count, 41 fundraisers had been scheduled between New Year's and the start of the session next week, many of them targeting lobbyists and businesses that will have bills affecting their interests before the General Assembly. Among the eight events slated for Wednesday are dueling breakfasts in Annapolis hosted by the chairmen of the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over energy-related legislation.

"I haven't seen it like this before," said Bruce C. Bereano, a longtime Annapolis lobbyist who keeps a comprehensive calendar of fundraisers. "I wish I had either a helicopter or roller skates so I could get to them all."

In the two weeks before last year's session, Maryland lawmakers collectively raised close to $1 million, according to a new Washington Post analysis. The figure is likely to be higher this year as legislators seek their final contributions before they suspend fundraising until April, by which time the election season will be in full swing.

Virginia has a similar ban, and a pre-session scramble for cash is underway there, too. But with no legislative races on the calendar this year -- and a shorter legislative session -- the frenzy doesn't quite approach that in Maryland. Sessions in both states start Jan. 13.

Last year, when House members in Virginia were on the ballot, lawmakers from both chambers raised $997,808 in the two weeks before the session, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in Virginia politics.

Twenty-eight states place restrictions on contributions during legislative sessions. Not all are as broad as those in Maryland and Virginia, applying, for example, only to lobbyists in some cases.

Maryland's and Virginia's bans apply to the governor and other statewide elected officials, as well as legislators.

The bans on fundraising by lawmakers are designed to prevent the appearance of trading votes for campaign contributions.

William G. Somerville, the ethics counsel to the Maryland General Assembly, acknowledged that "logically, there's not much of a distinction" between contributions received a few days before the legislative session and those received a few days after it starts.

"But you've got to draw a line somewhere, and wherever you draw a line, people are going to walk right up to it," Somerville said.

Maryland Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the Finance Committee, said he expects to raise more than $35,000 at a breakfast scheduled for Wednesday morning at a historic inn on the street that encircles the State House. It will be Middleton's largest fundraiser of the year, he said.

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