Legions of Elks, Moose and Lions Club members joined representatives of Montgomery County's toney Burning Tree Club today to block what has become a yearly campaign to strip their all-male organizations of valuable tax breaks.
Flanked by more than 200 sympathetic members of various clubs, Lions Club representative William Lauterbach voiced resentment of the bills in both houses of the General Assembly when he said, "We feel we get . . . our money's worth out of these groups, out of their swimming pools," and other charitable and recreational services that the government would otherwise fund.
"And bringing it down a peg, as a taxpayer in this state, I get tired of all the time being dragged down here . . . for something there really is no cause for," Lauterbach told the joint meeting of the House Ways and Means and Senate Budget and Taxation committees, to long applause.
But proponents of the measure, including Common Cause, the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters and the state Human Relations Commission, argued equally strongly that the state has no right to expect all taxpayers to subsidize clubhouses and groups open only to a few.
"We legislators are giving free money to organizations which do not . . . cater to our constituents on a fair and equal basis. This free money totals millions each year," said State Sen. Decatur Trotter (D-Prince George's), who along with Del. Albert Wynn (D-Prince George's) sponsored the bills.
The bills would prohibit tax breaks to any organization that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin, although they include exemptions for religious organizations, educational organizations founded by or for the benefit of a religious group and organizations that serve young people, a clause to exempt the Scouts.
Although similar to those introduced before, previous measures were directed mainly at the $152,000 tax break enjoyed by the exclusive Burning Tree Club in Bethesda, which does not admit women and has few black members. Last fall, Del. Stewart Bainum and his sister successfully sued in Montgomery County Circuit Court seeking an end to the tax break or the discriminatory policy. The club appealed.
Two years ago a bill to end tax breaks to disciminatory clubs, drafted to affect only Montgomery County, was killed in the final minutes of the session because organizations from other areas feared the antidiscrimination fervor might jeopardize their tax breaks.
Similarly, the broad impact of today's bills is considered likely to be their undoing. Del. Clarence Davis (D-Baltimore) fumed, "This is some elitist rich boy issue that don't affect nobody in my district."