HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) Campaign finance watchdog groups are studying how much campaign money Maryland politicians spend on actual campaigning and how much is used for other expenses.
Critics of current campaign finance laws cite state House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., whose substantial campaign fund legally spent thousands of dollars annually on Christmas cards, gifts and flowers for friends and allies, according to records filed with the Maryland State Election Board.
“It’s a lot of money spent on Christmas and valentines. I don’t think it’s unusual, but it certainly points out a gray area in the law,” James Browning of Common Cause, a nonprofit citizens’ lobbying group, told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.
Mr. Taylor, Allegany Democrat, declined to comment specifically on his campaign finance report, but said Maryland has some of the nation’s toughest campaign finance laws.
Generally, campaign fund expenditures must be election-related, which means they must “enhance the candidate’s election chances and must not be incurred if there is no potential candidacy,” according to Ross Goldstein, director of the division of candidacy and campaign finance.
Expenditures may not be disbursed for personal use, he said.
The largest campaign accounts often belong to powerful incumbents with little election competition, said Sean Dobson of Progressive Maryland, another campaign finance watchdog group.
“That begs the question: If they’re not in a competitive election, how do they spend their money?” he said.
Mr. Dobson’s group hopes to answer that question by studying how much campaign money goes for actual campaign expenses and how much is spent simply furthering political careers.
Mr. Taylor amassed $867,870 in campaign contributions over the past four years, more than any other single Maryland lawmaker, according to state reports.
His re-election seemed assured until a court-ordered change in electoral boundaries in August put him in a race with Republican LeRoy E. Myers Jr., who narrowly defeated Mr. Taylor last month, ending Mr. Taylor’s 27-year career in the House.
During the past four years, Mr. Taylor’s campaign fund bought $5,000 to $7,000 worth of Christmas cards annually, as well as more than $13,000 in gifts and flowers. The fund also made donations to local charities and gave substantial amounts to other lawmakers, state records show.