The Baltimore custom of giving out thousands of dollars in "walking-around money" to political clubs with little public record-keeping on how the money is spent has been dealt a blow by the Federal Election Commission.
In an opinion released yesterday, the commission announced its plans to sue six political clubs in the city for failing to report the receipt and disbursement of walking-around money from the successful Paul Sarbanes for U.S. Senate campaign last year.
The commission's action was instigated by a complaint from independent Bruce Bradley, one of Democrat Sarbanes' defeated opponents, who charged that Sarbanes and some 17 Baltimore political clubs violated election laws by failing to report the money.
Bradley, a Montgomery County resident, tried to make the Baltimore custom a major campaign issue. He failed but his point was raised successfully to the commission. After a year long investigation, the FEC determined that civil suits should be filed in federal court against six of the clubs, all Democratic, asking for some $5,000 in damages from each.
The Citco Democratic Club, the 4th District Democratic Organization, Five and Five Democratic Club, Hampden Democratic Club, People's Democratic Action Organization and the Vanguard Political Organization, Inc. were all notified this week that they are to be sued within several weeks.
Walking-around money is given to pay for printing up sample ballots, for the people who distribute them and transporting voters to the polls.
The FEC, which has no criminal jurisdiction, said it found no evidence in its investigation of actual purchasing of votes, which is a crime.
The doling-out of walking-around money is one of the main purposes of the neighborhood political clubs that have been the life-blood of city politics for years.
Under current law, the candidate must report publicly that the money has been sent to a club. Beyond that, the clubs have never accounted for the receipt or expenditure in public reports. This decision, which would apply only to federal elections, would change that practice if sustained by the courts.