By ADAM KERLIN
ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 24, 2010) - Legislation heard in the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, which would ban holders of the state's slots licenses from making campaign contributions, is the latest in a string of bills that look to separate legislators from the gaming industry.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Luiz R. Simmons, D-Montgomery, would restrict the companies awarded Maryland's gaming licenses from directly contributing to a campaign, but would not prohibit individual expenditures in support of a candidate or issue. New Jersey, Louisiana and Michigan have all passed similar contribution bans, according to Simmons, but many states with gambling do not completely restrict contributions.
Florida does not restrict members of the gaming industry from making political contributions to its legislators, and all 160 members of the state legislature report benefitting from their contributions, according to the St. Petersburg Times. Nationally, a group of wealthy California gaming tribes combined to rank as the highest special interest donors in 2008, according to a 2009 study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Simmons has tried to pass similar contribution bans without luck. He finds the bill especially necessary as Maryland's gaming industry continues to develop.
"I think organized gambling is going to swallow up this General Assembly in the next few years," Simmons said. "I think it is wrong to willfully turn our head from what has been a peculiar problem."
A 1998 study by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission concluded that there was "sound reason to recommend that states adopt tight restrictions" on campaign contributions, but it did not suggest banning them.
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee believe the proposed prohibition goes beyond what the National Gambling Impact Study Commission suggests.
Del. Frank S. Turner, D-Howard, is the primary sponsor of a bill currently going through the House that would expand gambling in the state to include poker and other table games. A promoter of bringing full-blown casinos to Maryland, he believes it would be wrong to ban gaming companies from making campaign contributions.
"It only has a negative effect if you let it," Turner said.
If Simmons' bill passes, gaming companies found guilty of an illegal campaign contribution would have their licenses suspended for three years. New Jersey decided to make a violation of its contribution law a misdemeanor, a decision that Simmons called successful.
"Prohibitions on political contributions are not novel," Simmons said in response to concerns from committee members. "Not to recognize the peculiar industry of gaming would be wrong."
Committee members also believe the ban could take away the right members of gaming industries have to participate in the legislative process.
Delegate Craig L. Rice, D-Montgomery, said he would be opposed to the bill in its current form. However, he understands where Simmons is coming from and said it is something he would support if redrafted.
"The concern I have is with the blanket statement that all gaming is corruption." Rice said. "I don't understand where that foundation comes from."
Rice said something along the lines of a contribution cap or limit might be a more feasible restriction.
"I don't want to infringe on someone's right to participate in the political process," Rice said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.