The House of Delegates today ended this session's debate over limiting political action committee campaign contributions by pouncing with relish on a PAC measure -- shaped by two key members of the House leadership -- that many legislators said was ill-considered.
"It was a dingbat solution to the problem," said Del. Michael R. Gordon (D-Montgomery) of the bill that mustered only 42 votes, 29 shy of passage.
The bill had been redrafted by two leaders of Gordon's own Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee, Majority Leader Donald B. Robertson and Chairman Helen L. Koss.
Robertson and Koss, two Montgomery County Democrats whose sober and meticulous approach to legislative affairs has not endeared them to some of their colleagues, recast a bill that would have placed dollar limits on the amount PACs may contribute to state and local candidates.
In its place they proposed a system that would limit PAC contributions to 20 percent of a candidate's overall receipts. Their version was only narrowly approved by their own committee.
The proposed change, called "brilliant" by the lobbyist for Common Cause, was widely derided as ridiculous and unworkable today and gave many legislators a ready excuse to vote against an idea for which they had little sympathy in the first place.
"It was so cumbersome you would have needed a CPA for a campaign treasurer," said Del. Gerard F. Devlin (D-Prince George's). "You would have been in the position of deciding to open one envelope but not another" so as not to exceed the 20 percent limit at a given moment, he said.
"That bill was so bad that it didn't belong in here," added Del. Paul Weisengoff (D-Baltimore). "It was the worst bill I ever saw."
Robertson, arguing for his handiwork on the floor today, said his committee "didn't have any illusions that this would be easy to pass," but defended the measure as a "reasonable way to address the problem."
With today's House vote, the General Assembly has lost all opportunity this year to join the growing number of states that have placed restrictions on PAC contributions. Maryland has had no limit on such funds since 1977, when legislation containing the PAC contribution loophole was enacted.
The state Senate has already killed similar legislation. It also defeated a second attempt to place limits on PACs during debate on a bill to raise the amounts individuals and corporations may contribute to political candidates.
Since 1977, there has been a proliferation of PACs in Maryland, according to figures compiled by Common Cause. In 1983, there were nearly 300 operating in the state, compared with about 50 five years earlier.
Ricki Wadsworth, the state lobbyist for Common Cause, said she was pleased by even the limited support shown for the legislation today.