ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland state senators and delegates are battling over a provision in a bill to expand gambling that would prevent casino owners from making campaign contributions to lawmakers.
The restrictions on campaign donations would prevent anyone who owns 5 percent or more of a Maryland casino or anyone applying to build a gambling palace in Maryland from donating to lawmakers' campaign war chests, or to political parties in the state.
Supporters say the measure will help restore faith in Maryland's political process, but the ban received a strong condemnation from Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Eastern Shore, in a more than four hour debate of the bill on the Senate floor Friday afternoon.
"This provision has no basis in this bill," Pipkin said. "It is not the executive branch's prerogative to say you, the legislative branch, you can't do it."
Though attempts to strip the bill of the measure in the Senate failed, the issue has come up again in the House, where delegates on the Ways and Means Committee said they were troubled by the ban.
Lawmakers take campaign donations from a variety of sources they're expected to pass legislation on, said Del. Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George's. She cited utility companies as an example of an industry free to make donations to lawmakers who regulate it.
"I understand the spirit of it, but I don't necessarily agree with it," Ivey said. "To me this is one of those [public relations] things that politicians get enamored with."
Del. Sam Arora, D-Montgomery County, also questioned whether the measure was constitutional in a letter to the Maryland Attorney General's office.
But attorneys found that the provision was specific enough in it's intent to "protect the integrity of the legislative and regulatory process," wrote Sandra Benson Brantley, assistant attorney general. "The state has an interest to ensure that contributions are not used to influence gaming decisions."
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said Gov. Martin O'Malley placed the ban in the gambling bill to help smooth over what has become a contentious debate.
"This ban would restore the confidence of the voters so that they have the feeling important policy decisions are being made not for the influence of some of the owners of facilities, but for the general public policy good of the state," he said.