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Editorial: Campaign finance reform

As it prepared to convene for a 2011 session that promises to be dominated by frustrating struggles over scarce fiscal resources, the Maryland General Assembly was presented with an opportunity to do something important that won’t require a significant outlay of public funds.

A committee convened by Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler recommended much-needed reforms in raising and spending money on political campaigns, an area which has not been studied since 1987.

The recommendations ranged from extending laws to cover the use of social media in campaigns to closing a loophole that allows businesses to bypass donation limits by routing funds through subsidiaries. Other proposals would tighten restrictions on slates of candidates, which can transfer unlimited amounts of funds to candidates.

There is also the matter of the cap on campaign donation amounts — $4,000 per candidate and $10,000 overall per election cycle — unchanged since 1991.

Some states, including Virginia and Pennsylvania, do not limit campaign contributions. Among those that do, the average limit per candidate is $8,359. We oppose unlimited donations in Maryland, but we do believe the current limits should be raised to reflect inflation and the increased cost of campaigns.

The timing and circumstances should bode well for passage. First, Maryland just conducted statewide elections last fall, so there is no better time to make changes than right now before the next cycle begins.

Second, Mr. Gansler chose wisely in naming the members of the committee, who included four state legislators, the lawyers for the Maryland branches of the Democratic and Republican parties and other experts in election law.

“There were a lot of areas crying out for reform,” Mr. Gansler said. “People in Maryland have to have trust in the system.”

We agree and we urge the assembly to act quickly and decisively to adopt these reforms.