You could get the impression from all the raised eyebrows in Annapolis these days that Maryland's state legislators didn't have the foggiest notion until now that in politics big money talks. Along comes a well-heeled group calling itself Maryland Business for Responsive Government with a campaign to win support for issues of interest to big business -- starting with report cards on how state lawmakers voted on certain issues in Annapolis this year. The idea of the scorecard, as you might guess, is to galvanize business support -- read, money -- for those with high ratings and to work for the defeat of those whose rankings were low. So what else is new?
SK Suddenly statewide groups representing teachers, senior citizens and environmentalists have joined with several black legislators and the Maryland branch of the AFL-CIO in criticizing the coalition's activities. Some are characterizing the scorecard as a "hit list" for the organization and its political arm, Maryland PAC, which has made $1,000 contributions to 20 statewide candidates and has $48,000 more where that came from.
How -- other than philosophically -- does this differ from AFL-CIO COPE listings and endorsements, or the "Dirty Dozen" congressional hit lists of environmentalists -- or anybody else's special-interest rankings? And who says any legislator has to accept this money or behave differently to curry the group's favor. As it turns out, this latest scorecard shows that more than 100 of what the big business coalition calls Maryland's "188 most important voters" scored 50 percent or less.
It just might be that local business support is more important to the legislators than the backing of large statewide businesses. For example, Montgomery County Delegate Gene W. Counihan logged a pitiful 7 percent on the big business card, but won a 58 percent from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, representing 700 merchants.
PAC money may talk in Maryland politics, but the ultimate voices still belong to a far more influential and independent group: the voters.