No word yet on who will be filling all the empty chairs in County Executive Douglas M. Duncan's campaign office, though there are conflicting explanations circulating about all the recent departures.

Duncan's team has parted ways, at least for now, with Baltimore fundraising consultant Colleen Martin-Lauer and Washington pollster Frederick S. Yang, two critical players in Duncan's reelection effort and advisers in his false-start run for governor.

Duncan says the moves amount to the mundane realities of reorganization that take place after every campaign. He notes that his team also recently lost campaign manager Lee Friedman, who went to work for Ameripac, a political action committee affiliated with U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). They also lost Friedman's deputy, Regan Kelley, who took work with the political consulting firm of former Clinton aide Mickey Ibarra.

The hitch in the classic reorganization explanation is that both Martin-Lauer and Yang will be working with Duncan's most likely gubernatorial rival in the 2006 Democratic primary, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

So were the consultants forced to choose sides, as some have suggested? Or did they realize they couldn't properly work for two likely rivals? They're not talking, nor is anyone in Duncan's camp, except to say that Yang told his team his was strictly a business decision.

"I guess O'Malley's planning on doing a lot of polling," said one disappointed Duncan aide.

Campaign Finance Fight Emotions are heating up over campaign finance legislation that Montgomery County's legislative delegation will debate in Annapolis today.

The measure, a brainchild of County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) and sponsored by Del. Adrienne A. Mandel (D-Montgomery), would permit the county to tighten its own campaign finance regulations beyond the rules imposed by the state of Maryland.

The bill comes in direct response to the 2002 county elections, during which Duncan flexed his political muscle by forming a campaign slate that allowed him to pour huge sums of his own campaign money into key council races.

His effort to consolidate power had vocal detractors, and prompted an anti-growth group to compile a comprehensive list of Duncan's political donors and post them on the Internet (at www.neighborspac.org) in an attempt to tie him directly to specific interest groups.

The legislation allowing for tougher local restrictions first came up for discussion last week, and Montgomery County's delegation chair, Del. Charles E. Barkley (D), submitted an amendment, purportedly on behalf of Duncan. The amendment would have prevented the legislation from taking effect until 2010.

Andrews called the proposal to delay action on campaign finance "outrageous." During a briefing on the bill Monday, council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) said the delay would essentially scuttle the measure. The two urged their council colleagues to write a letter to the lawmakers asking them to reject the amendment.

Duncan responded by disavowing authorship of the amendment, and his aides said Tuesday that the whole thing was just a big communication blunder. Someone from Duncan's office asked Barkley to submit the proposal before getting Duncan's okay.

By Tuesday, they said they had asked Barkley to yank the amendment. But Duncan's still not a fan of the proposal.

"He thinks any campaign finance reform should be done statewide," said David Weaver, Duncan's spokesman. "We should not have a patchwork of campaign finance laws across the state."

A Call to Quiet Cell Phones A sneak peek at local legislation heading for the Montgomery County Council: Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) will ask lawmakers to consider criminalizing the use of cell phones in movie theaters and other places of performance.

Denis said his constituents have grown weary of moviegoers who not only let their phones ring during a show, but also have the nerve to take the call.

The measure would call for a $50 fine. No word, though, whether police will get to stop and watch the movies while they patrol the theaters in search of cell phone scofflaws.