Volume 14, Issue 3 ~ January 19 - 25, 2006


Beyond the Law’s Letter In This Season of Sleaze

Del. John Leopold took a welcome step when he declared that he has ceased raising money during the General Assembly session for his likely campaign for Anne Arundel county executive.

Leopold, a Pasadena Republican, is expected to join a hotly contested race for his party’s nomination for the office being vacated by term-limited executive Janet Owens, a Democrat.

It was a state legislator from California, Speaker Jesse Unruh, who coined the famous phrase: “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

That may be true, but there are times when perceptions about money and public trust are as important in the lives of politicians as mother’s milk. One of those times is now, when a political scandal in Washington over money and vote-buying threatens to unravel the high hopes of Leopold’s Republican Party in Congress and in the mid-term elections later this year.

In the many-tentacled Abramoff lobbying scandal, we’ve seen the kind of intimacy between lobbyists and legislators that poisons public policy. Money, to paraphrase Unruh, also is the mother’s milk of corruption.

Candidates for state offices are forbidden by Maryland law from raising money for their re-election campaigns during the session, and for good reason. Quick cash for a swing vote might be just too tempting for a needy senator or delegate in a tight race.

That prohibition does not extend to candidates running for non-state offices.

Yet Anne Arundel is such a big place and so full of vexing, high-dollar issues that Leopold and other General Assembly members can’t help considering legislation that will mean big wins for some interests in the county, and big losses for others.

Some of the interests’ working issues are likely to be developers eager to build on every greenspace and critical area they can find.

Del. David Boschert, of Crownsville, the other state office holder now in the GOP race for county executive, has said he’ll continue raising money during the General Assembly session.

Boschert has the law on his side. And if he doesn’t raise money now, he’ll be far in the hole in the fast five months before the crowded Republican primary in September.

For he has ground to make up. He counts his contributions in thousands, while Leopold counts hundreds of thousands: well over $400,000.

Phil Bissett — Janet Owens’ Republican opponent in the 2002 race for county executive — refused to reveal how much he’d raised until “4:59pm of the day the report was due.” By the time you read these words, the amount will be public record.

Leopold’s declaration speaks of tactics as well as ethics.

That doesn’t knock him out of the catbird seat. An early sponsor of legislation to ban fundraising when the Assembly is in session, Leopold has been building his candidacy with voters and contributors for more than a year now, suggesting two practical skills he’d bring to the executive’s job: sensitivity to the appearance of rectitude and the ability to plan ahead.

Bissett, too, has invested months in his race so that now, he says, “he’s far ahead of his fundraising goal.”

Boschert — who admitted to what he called an unintentional ethics violation as a member of the Anne Arundel County Council before he came to the legislature — is breaking no law by continuing to raise money for a county job while working in the General Assembly. But he is sacrificing the perception advantage. It’s a shame he didn’t think about the health of his campaign fund before ethics became a voting issue for many people weary of influence peddlers and their pals.

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