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Posted at 4:38 PM ET, 11/24/2010

Thanksgiving-eve election reports spotlight gaps in Md. campaign finance law

By Aaron C. Davis
Aaron C. Davis

A final round of election reports trickling on to Maryland's campaign finance Web site Wednesday showed just how little is known about where, when and how candidates for governor and other statewide offices in Maryland raise and spend money in the crucial final weeks before Election Day.

A criticized feature of Maryland's campaign finance law means that unlike in many other states, political contributions made in the final run-up to an election are not revealed until weeks later, often after most votes are counted and winners and losers have been declared.

One impact of the reporting gap became apparent Tuesday when the campaign of former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) reported paying $14,000 in the final days of the race to the political consultant who has taken responsibility for ordering anonymous election-night robocalls suggesting Democrats "relax" and stay home in the final hours before the polls closed Nov. 2. Ehrlich's campaign dated the two most recent payments to Henson's Universal Elections on Oct. 21 and Oct. 29. The last day before the election that the candidates had to report was Oct. 17.

On Wednesday, Gov. Martin O'Malley's campaign released preliminary figures showing it had raised over $1.6 million during the same blackout period. But as of Wednesday afternoon, O'Malley's reports still had not appeared online, meaning the source of the contributions was still hard to tally. O'Malley's campaign has said roughly $800,000 was raised in a single day last month at fundraisers headlined by former president Bill Clinton and Vice President Biden.

An advisory committee assembled by state Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) began meeting last week to consider options to close loopholes in Maryland campaign finance law. In states such as California, candidates must report contributions and expenditures every 24 hours in the final week or two before an election.

Several bills to tighten campaign finance disclosures have died in the state's General Assembly in recent years.

Maryland has the 44th-worst-ranked set of campaign finance disclosure laws in the country, according to a UCLA study. Donors are shielded from having to disclose the names of their employers, what industries they work in and other basic data commonly required to contribute to federal campaigns.

Without some changes, good-government advocates say Maryland's laws will be able to do little to unveil the industry and business interests that have helped Maryland's Washington suburbs eclipse Baltimore this year as the state's fundraising powerhouse.

Maryland's lack of disclosures makes it impossible to come up with a comprehensive portrait of the interests behind the majority of the more than $28 million spent to elect the next governor, but a pre-election analysis by The Washington Post identified the industries associated with 40 percent of the money contributed to O'Malley and Ehrlich over the past eight years.

The analysis found that many with related interests are giving more than the state's $4,000 cap for a single political campaign and its $10,000 cap in a four-year period. Some are donating through multiple family members or divisions of a company.

The analysis also turned up more than 150 businesses, some involved in hot-button industries, that have hedged their bets by donating more than half a million dollars to both candidates.

By Aaron C. Davis  | November 24, 2010; 4:38 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections, Aaron C. Davis  
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Careful reading of the MINUTES to Maryland State entities for ELECTIONS and ETHICS will reveal negligence and corruption since the 1950s.

Posted by: Improperbostonian | November 25, 2010 3:28 AM | Report abuse

Huh? Do you mean things are still the same, after so many years of work to improve the system in MD? Perhaps the legislators who introduce legislation to make improvements are merely paying lip service to the concepts of disclosure and transparency.

A little-known fact is that MD law allowed corporations to be considered "persons" and make unlimited expenditures in support of candidates and issues before the US Supreme Court decided the same; the law specifically identifies corporations as "persons" and allows them to make independent expenditures. Unions in the state took advantage of this "loophole" before other corporations did.

I wonder how that all happened? Why doesn't the legislature change this system, require more frequent reporting with more detailed identification of interests? Who benefits from the way things are?

Here's who: The incumbent legislators, the monied interests and their lobbyists.

Couple this with an election administration that is strapped for money and can't provide the oversight that would detect the abuses of the existing law, much less make recommendations and push for change.

Ah, Maryland, My Maryland!

Posted by: goodgovernment | November 25, 2010 10:02 AM | Report abuse

This is what happens when you have one-party government: Sleazy practices throughout the state.

Posted by: MrBethesda | November 26, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

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