MARYLAND’S SWISS CHEESE campaign finance rules are looking more cavity-riddled than ever. The Board of Elections decreed recently that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, as a state official, is barred from raising money for his gubernatorial campaign for three months starting Jan. 8, while the General Assembly is in session. However, the board ruled that no such prohibition applies to Mr. Brown’s running mate, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who may continue to rake in cash from lobbyists and special interests to his heart’s content.
Somehow discounting the fact that Mr. Ulman and Mr. Brown, both Democrats, are politically joined at the hip since they are running for statewide office on a joint ticket, the board decided that Mr. Ulman is a mere local official, and therefore shielded from the law designed to avoid the appearance (and reality) of conflicts of interest on the part of state officials while the legislature is at work.
To provide a fig leaf of respectability to an otherwise-preposterous policy, the board said Mr. Ulman may not coordinate his fundraising campaign with Mr. Brown during the 90-day legislative session. But what is to stop the two men, who will be spending innumerable hours together privately, from doing so ?
The ruling applies equally to a Republican candidate for governor, Harford County Executive David R. Craig. As a local official, he can continue raising campaign cash through the legislative session; not so his running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (Talbot), who serves in the House of Delegates.
Maryland is one of 29 states that places restrictions on giving and receiving campaign contributions during legislative sessions. The idea is to dampen the appearance that special interests can proffer cash, and officials can accept it, even as laws are being made. That would look uncomfortably like legalized bribery — though in truth those donations don’t look much different when given and received at other times of the year.
By exempting the Brown-Ulman campaign from even this cosmetic restriction on campaign funding, the state board also tilted the playing field in the gubernatorial contest. It blatantly handicapped Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who is Mr. Brown’s chief rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (Prince George’s). As state officials, both are barred from campaign fundraising during the legislative session. A third Democratic candidate, state Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery), has agreed to accept public financing of her campaign — limiting the contributions she receives to $250 in return for matching funds from the state.
Allies of Mr. Gansler have appealed in state court to reverse the board of election’s ruling. Granted, they have a vested interest in doing so. But advocates of clean government have been equally critical of the ruling, which Common Cause Maryland said would enable some candidates “to skirt critical ethics reforms intended to limit the corrupting influence of fundraising during the 90-day legislative session.”
Maryland reformers (and this page) have frequently advocated a broader public campaign financing system that would give elected officials a chance to gain and hold office without relying heavily, and in many cases exclusively, on special interests. Barring that, lobbyists in Annapolis will continue to operate with a free hand, and an open wallet, and Maryland voters won’t have much to say about it.
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