- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

ANNAPOLIS - Any person, business or group spending more than $10,000 to influence the outcome of November’s slot machine referendum will have to report it to the State Board of Elections under a law taking effect today.

The law affects individuals, companies, unions, nonprofit corporations and any other entity, including partnerships.

Within seven days of spending the money, the slots supporter or opponent will have to give initial notification to the board that more than $10,000 has been spent cumulatively on campaign materials.

The board must be told the entity’s name and address, and the name of the person in charge of spending the money. The notification also must include whether the money went to promote the success or defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment.

The person responsible for filing the report will later have to electronically submit campaign finance reports detailing all the expenditures. The reports will be due Oct. 10, Oct. 24 and Nov. 25.

The state attorney general’s office has issued an advice letter to the board, saying that the expenditure portion of the requirement is retroactive to include money spent since Jan. 1, said Jared DeMarinis, director of the State Board of Elections’ Candidacy and Campaign Finance Division.

Failure to file the campaign finance reports will make the offender liable for a fine of $20 a day for the first six days and $10 a day up to the maximum penalty of $250.

The amount of money being spent, and by whom, to influence the outcome of the referendum has been a concern in the long, heated debate over slot machines in the state.

“It won’t change who gives money but it will at least make it public,” said Ryan O’Donnell, a spokesman for the political watchdog group Common Cause Maryland.

Common Cause has asked state lawmakers to reject contributions from gambling interests until after November’s referendum. The group also has asked organizations on both sides of the slots debate to reject money from corporate gambling interests.

But a pro-slots group called For Maryland, For Our Future already has tapped corporate gambling interests for campaign funding.

At the Preakness horse race at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course on May 17, the group handed out about 5,000 T-shirts supporting the referendum. The T-shirts were paid for by Magna Entertainment Corp., which owns Pimlico and Laurel Park, said Scott Borgemenke, Magna’s vice president of racing.

In the Nov. 4 referendum, voters will decide whether to legalize up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations - in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, Baltimore city and Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland.

Supporters, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, say the hundreds of millions of dollars they expect slots to raise for the state are needed to fill future budget holes, pay for education and help save the state’s struggling horse racing industry.

Opponents contend slots won’t raise nearly as much money as supporters say, that gambling preys on the poor and that approving the referendum will pave the way to expanded gambling later.

Lawmakers broke the political stalemate over whether to legalize slots by approving two measures during last fall’s special session of the General Assembly. One asks voters to legalize slot machines, and the other details how many machines would be allowed and where the money would go.

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