Legislation filed yesterday would bar Maryland candidates and political parties from receiving campaign contributions from gambling interests, a proposal that an aide said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would be willing to consider.
As the architect of a plan to legalize slot machines at four of the state's racetracks, Ehrlich (R) has been the beneficiary of nearly $60,000 in contributions from gambling and racetrack interests, as have lawmakers who sit on key committees in the General Assembly.
But Paul E. Schurick, Ehrlich's director of communications and strategic planning, said last night that the governor supports efforts to tighten laws governing campaign contributions from persons doing business with the state, including gambling interests.
"It's an interesting concept, and we'd be very interested in that," Schurick said.
Modeled after laws in New Jersey and Louisiana, the bill introduced by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery) would bar contributions to candidates and parties from entities licensed to engage in slot machine or casino gambling in the state, their key employees and license applicants.
Simmons said he is concerned that if lawmakers agree to put slots at the racetracks, there would be no end in sight. "The taste will be in their mouths, and I foresee millions of dollars flowing into Maryland in an attempt to influence races from the county council on up to expand gambling," Simmons said. "We're looking at a tidal wave of donations."
Courts in New Jersey and Louisiana have upheld similar bans. In a letter to Simmons, Maryland Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch said he believes that the law is constitutional and doesn't violate the First Amendment. He cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court case allowing certain contribution limits if the law was "closely drawn" to match a "sufficiently important interest."
The legislation also has the support of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who vehemently opposes Ehrlich's proposal. "People should have concerns on the effect that this industry could have in influencing political elections," said Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
Simmons's bill will be heard in the Ways and Means Committee, which will also cast the first vote in the House on slots. Simmons hopes his bill could provide political cover for those who support slots. He is braced, however, for opposition from lobbyists.