A bill to provide public financing of campaigns in Maryland was defeated today in a House committee, after its sponsors abandoned it as a hopeless cause.
The measure, which was first proposed here in 1974 when voter sentiment for campaign reform was at its peak nationwide, went down to defeat today in a committee led by two of the bill's principal architects. Montgomery County Democrats Helen L. Koss and Donald B. Robertson.
When the vote was taken, both Koss and Robertson opposed the measure, which was defeated 16-5 in a committee which included 12 of its original sponsors.
"I voted against it because I felt it had no chance this year and it wasn't productive to take it to the floor and waste the time of the House," Robertson said this evening.
Del. Gerard Devlin (D-Prince George's), the chief sponsor of the bill, found Robertson's attitude defeatist. "I'm bitterly disappointed [by the vote]," he said. "This was the only major election reform bill that had a real chance of passage this year."
Another campaign financing advocate, Del. Gerald J. Curran (D-Baltimore), who is vice chairman of the committee that killed the bill, could only shake his head at the measure's demise. "Given the reality that the votes are there in the Senate, and that in the House it would pass or fail by one or two votes, it's sad," said Curran moments after the vote.
But most agreed that the chief force behind the bill's death was a single Baltimore delegate, Paul Weisengoff, who has managed to derail the legislation at every turn in the past six years.
"As long as I'm here, it's not gonna pass," Weisengoff said gleefully, after learning of the defeat which he had orchestrated.
On Tuesday, he had spoken with similar pleasure of his reasons for his persistant attacks on the bill pushed by Koss and Robertson, who once had reputations as the legislature's leading liberals.
"I don't want to see Robertson and Koss get what they've wanted for the last 10 years," said the grinning Weisengoff, who prides himself on his opposition to measures which carry the lable of reform.
The two Montgomery legislators have for years been the moving force behind the public financing proposals, but they have won no victories in these efforts since 1974, when the General Assembly approved a measure allowing taxpayers to provide money for campaigns.
More than $500,000 has been collected for this purpose in the past six years, but the essential legislation allowing the money to be used by statewide candidates has never won approval, so none of the money has ever been used.
But this year, three powerful legislators and a cadre of public interest lobbyists announced they had persuaded 47 House members and much of the Senate's leadership to sponsor a new bill providing public financing for the campaigns of candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.
"We should have been able to bring home the bacon this year," Curran sadly noted earlier this week. "But we just couldn't pull it off."
Pointing to the popularity of the new political creed of budget-cutting and limiting government spending, Koss said late today "this year was just not the year for this."
"A bill could at some time pass out of our committee," she added. "But not this time around."