Maryland banks, utilities, and other businesses with state and local government contracts contributed nearly $300,000 to the 1978 election campaigns of state officials, according to a study released today by a Montgomery County delegate.
Republican Del. Luiz Simmons compiled the new study as part of an effort to win support for a bill that would limit campaign contributions by businesses with state contracts to $100 in each election.
Simmons' proposal was the subject of one of the General Assembly's most bitter political battles last session. After first passing the House, the measure was killed in a reconsideration vote, prompting Simmons and a group of other freshman delegates to stall the legislative leadership's favored ethics legislation in a House committee.
As a part of a deal struck last year to release the ethics bill from the committee, the House leadership is supporting Simmons' measure this year. House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin is a cosponsor of the bill.
Despite the leadership endorsement and changes Simmons' made to accommodate Cardin and House Majority leader Donald B. Robertson (D- Montgomery), the bill is expected to face strong opposition in both the House and Senate.
Simmons' new study, he says, demonstrates why the opposition is widespread. The study shows, for example, that Gov. Harry Hughes received $68,720 in 1978 from 52 companies with state contracts, including $17,000 from banks and their officers and nearly $4,000 from utility companies.
The report lists similar contributions to other statewide candidates in 1978, including Attorney General Stephen Sachs, and gubernatorial candidates J. Glenn Beall, a Republican, and former acting Gov. Blair Lee III a Democrat.
According to the study, executives of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. gave $1,750 to Hughes, $150 to Beall, $500 to Lee, $500 to former Attorney General Francis Burch, and $700 to former Baltimore County Executive Theodore Venetoulis, who also ran for governor.
Executives of the three banks that handle state funds -- First Maryland Bancorp, Union Trust Bancorp, and Mercantile Bankshares Corp. -- together with their subsidiaries contributed $14,000 each to political campaigns between 1974 and 1978, the report says.
Simmons said the contributions represented a form of "subtle influence. Businesses doing business with the state have done so very clearly with the prospect of a quid pro quo," he said.
Simmons' bill would covery any business with a contract of $10,000 or more with state or local governments.
Unlike the bill he sponsored last year, Simmons' new measure says that these businesses would be allowed to make contributions to candidates seeking office in those branches of state government with which they have no contracts. A firm with $10,000 worth of business with Prince George's County, for example, could not make contributions to candidates for county government posts, but could contribute to the campaigns of state legislators, under the bill.
Cardin and Robertson also persuaded Simmons to drop language that would have attempted to restrict the activities of political action committees, which contribute thousands of dollars in special-interest contributions to Maryland campaigns.