Public financing of elections, called by its supporters the most important reform measure before the Maryland General Assembly this year, was defeated in close vote by two House committee today.
Del. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and chief sponsor of bill, said that because of the closeness of the votes ( 12 to 12 in his committee, 11 to 12 in Constitutional and Administration Law) the question may be debated on the floor of the full House, where it was defeated last year.
Another sponsor, Del. Gerald Delvin (D-Prince George's), said that while it was "the most important reform bill of the year, it had no public support. The public didn't understand its importance.
The Fair Campaign Financing Act, as it was called, would provide money from the general fund to candidates for the top four state offices, governor, Lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general. Candidates for governor could get up to $500,000 in matching finds, and correspondingly for the lesser offices. The bill could have cost up to $4 million over the next four years.
While supporters decried its defeat Del. Paul Weisengoff, leader of the Baltimore delegation and an outspoken foe, pictures opponents as the true reformers.
"I'm the reformer," Weisengoff said after the vote. If the bill were approved, Weisengoff said, supporters of the bill like Common Cause and the labor unions, including teachers' group and state employees, would "take over" as the new power structure.
Weisengoff, a tough-talking, cigar-chewing practical politician, told the joint committee "the only thing that keeps labor and business on a par is that money is contributed". Remove that balance. Weisengoff suggested and the pressure groups really will dictate who gets elected.
Another influential opponent was De. Charles J. Krysiak (D-Baltimore), chairman of the COnstitutional and Administrative Law Committee. Krysiak said that while the proposed law would limit individual contributions to $250, it would not prevent abuses such as establishment of separate committee would act without the endorsement of the candidate, and nonmonetary contributions such as loans of cars and equipment.
A sponsor, Del. Helen L. Koss (D-Montgomery) said such in-kind gifts now are "absolutely exempt."
The two committees earlier today narrowly defeated a proposal that would have repealed the existing public funding of elections law altogether.
The existing law permits Maryland residents to make contributions of up to $2 to a public find by adding the amount to their state income tax return. Only 3 per cent of the tax-payers have picked the option compared to 26 per cent who check-off on the federal tax returns. The difference is that the U.S. system does not cost the taxpayers extra money.
The Maryland has produced about $188,000 so far and is projected to raise $300,000 in time for the 1978 election campaigns. Montgomery County residents are the chief supporters of the system, according to Weisengoff, who said, "that's fine, let them continue to do it. I don't care."
In other action today, the Senate approved Gov. Marvin Mandel's nominee to the state Racing Commission Frank Cucci of Baltimore, after a heated debate in which some senators opposed Cucci because of his tie to men whose racing industry activities ended in their becoming codefendants in Mandels political corruption trial.
"I think this body has to be very careful before it enters into the arena of guilt by associations," said Sen. Margaret C. Schweinhaut (D-Montgomery), chairman of the committee that recommended Senate approval of Cucci's nomination.
Bills to allow courts to divide property even in a divorve settlement were swiftly killed in the House Judiciary Committee today. Sponsored by Del. Helen Koss (D-Montgomery) and strongly endorsed by the Women's Caucus here, the bills were considered a crucial element iin the caucus' campaign to give housework economic value.