Campaign finance report takes aim at slates, LLCs
A report out today calls for tighter regulations on how political slates and LLCs participate in elections, among other suggested fixes to Maryland's campaign finance system.
In the fall, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler convened a group of lawmakers and elections lawyers and officials to study campaign finance. The report released today in Baltimore makes 25 recommendations, many of which could only be implemented if the Maryland General Assembly approves.
Gansler, a Democrat who did not participate in the committee's work, called the 53-page report "more than food for thought for legislators," though he said it would be up to the Assembly to decide whether to move on any of the recommendations.
The attorney general said political slates, which can transfer unlimited amounts of money to and from anyone on them -- in effect circumventing the $4,000 per four-year-cycle donation limits -- are "particularly crying out for reform."
The report also suggests changes to laws affecting contributions by limited-liability corporations. An "LLC loophole" treats each LLC, even if owned and operated by a common person, as a separate donor, enabling politically savvy givers to avoid donation limits.
The Gansler group also recommended that lawmakers take a look at the limits of $4,000 per candidate per cycle and $10,000 per donor per cycle, though it made no specific suggestion about what the new limits should be.
The committee saw that issue as "something that should be addressed by the larger body" of legislators, said Del. Jay Walker, one of four lawmakers who worked on the report.
The committee also included another Democrat, two Republican lawmakers, Board of Elections representatives and lawyers for the Maryland Democratic Party and Maryland Republican Party.
The Sun reported on common complaints about the state's campaign finance system in November, shortly after the gubernatorial election.
Some recommendations in the committee's report:
* Require candidates and political committees to report employer and occupation information from donors over a certain amount.
* Close an "LLC loophole" by treating different LLCs with a common owner as a single entity.
* Require slates to disclose which slate members benefit directly from slate expenses and transfers.
* Terminate slate members when they retire.
* Limit the amount that can be transferred among slate members.
* Require candidates to notify the Board of Elections about loans within 24 hours.
* Limit the amount of money transferred to candidates by out-of-state political committees.
* Review campaign finance limits, which have not changed since 1991.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, both Democrats, have chafed at Gansler's inclusion of lawmakers on the committee without first talking to legislative leaders.
Gansler said the State Board of Elections, which his office represents, might request specific legislation this year.