In Mary­land, nearly 1 in 3 cite pub­lic cor­rup­tion as big is­sue


Nearly a third of Mary­land res­i­dents see cor­rup­tion as a ma­jor prob­lem in state gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton Post-Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land poll, a per­cep­tion that co­in­cides with a push by law­mak­ers and Gov. Larry Ho­gan to strengthen ethics laws.

The House of Del­e­gates gave fi­nal ap­proval Fri­day to com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion crafted by Ho­gan (R) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arun­del) that would in­crease fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments and ex­pand the def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes a con­flict of in­ter­est.

The leg­is­la­tion — part of an ef­fort to ad­dress a string of scan­dals in­volv­ing Demo­cratic law­mak­ers — will now be con­sid­ered in the Se­nate.

State law­mak­ers are also ne­go­ti­at­ing bills to over­haul the struc­ture of the Prince Ge­orge’s County liquor board, an agency at the cen­ter of a fed­eral cor­rup­tion probe that re­sulted in bribery charges against two for­mer del­e­gates from Prince Ge­orge’s ear­lier this year.

A third Demo­crat, who had been cho­sen to fill an empty seat in the House of Del­e­gates, lost that po­si­tion after he was in­dicted on charges of il­le­gal cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. And Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Bal­ti­more County) re­ceived a rare pub­lic rep­ri­mand from his House col­leagues for vi­o­lat­ing the spirit of ethics laws by tak­ing stances on the state’s nascent med­i­cal mar­i­juana in-

dus­try with­out pub­licly mak­ing clear that he was a con­sul­tant for a mar­i­juana-re­lated busi­ness.

The Post-U-Md. poll finds stark re­gional dif­fer­ences in con­cern about cor­rup­tion in both An­napo­lis and in lo­cal gov­ern­ment. A 57 per­cent ma­jor­ity of Bal­ti­more City res­i­dents say cor­rup­tion in state gov­ern­ment is a big prob­lem, com­pared with 22 per­cent of res­i­dents in Mont­gomery County and 32 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders over­all. In 2004, 27 per­cent of Mary­land res­i­dents said they were con­cerned about statewide cor­rup­tion. Among likely vot­ers in 2002, the fig­ure was 37 per­cent.

A smaller 24 per­cent of Mary­lan­ders say cor­rup­tion is a big prob­lem in their own ju­ris­dic­tion. Con­cerns peak at 59 per­cent in Bal­ti­more City and 39 per­cent in Prince Ge­orge’s County. Ma­jor con­cerns about county-level cor­rup­tion fall to 21 per­cent in Bal­ti­more County, 17 per­cent among res­i­dents of Anne Arun­del or Howard coun­ties and 9 per­cent in Mont­gomery.

In­dia Pat­ter­son, who lives in the Prince Ge­orge’s town of Brentwood, said she was floored by the re­cent charges against for­mer del­e­gates Michael L. Vaughn (D) and Wil­liam A. Cam­pos (D), es­pe­cially since they came from her county, which has been dogged by high-pro­file cor­rup­tion cases.

“It’s an em­bar­rass­ment,” said Pat­ter­son, a 39-year-old health­care worker. “Prince Ge­orge’s has come so far, but yet we are still so be­hind.”

Fed­eral author­i­ties have ac­cused Vaughn, Cam­pos, the liquor board ad­min­is­tra­tor and an ap­pointed com­mis­sioner of ac­cept­ing or ar­rang­ing bribes for ac­tions re­lat­ing to liquor laws or board de­ci­sions.

In re­sponse to the case, Ho­gan pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to cut lo­cal party of­fi­cials from the process of choos­ing liquor board com­mis­sion­ers, while re­quir­ing the reg­u­la­tors to un­dergo crim­i­nal back­ground checks.

State law­mak­ers did not take ac­tion on the gov­er­nor’s pro­posal, but they are ad­vanc­ing al­ter­na­tive bills that would sub­ject liquor in­spec­tors, com­mis­sion­ers and board staff to more strin­gent pub­lic ethics laws.

Leg­is­la­tors agree in their pro­pos­als that the Prince Ge­orge’s county ex­ec­u­tive should ap­point the com­mis­sion­ers, in­stead of the gov­er­nor. They are ne­go­ti­at­ing whether state se­na­tors should still have a say.

While that de­bate is on­go­ing, law­mak­ers are on the verge of pass­ing a re­vised ver­sion of Ho­gan’s Pub­lic In­tegrity Act, which is aimed at clos­ing gaps in state ethics laws ex­posed by the ethics com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­ga­tion and sub­se­quent House rep­ri­mand of Morhaim.

The long­time law­maker urged mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tors to change rules af­fect­ing the med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try with­out fully dis­clos­ing he had be­come af­fil­i­ated with a cannabis com­pany, and he also spoke out on mar­i­juana is­sues in the leg­is­la­ture with­out mak­ing his work for the com­pany known to fel­low law­mak­ers.

The Joint Com­mit­tee on Leg­isla­tive Ethics found no vi­o­la­tions of dis­clo­sure rules or ev­i­dence that Morhaim in­ten­tion­ally tried to use his pub­lic of­fice to his fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage but nev­er­the­less con­cluded his ac­tions were im­proper and tar­nished the leg­isla­tive body’s rep­u­ta­tion.

The bill, ten­ta­tively ap­proved by the House on Thurs­day, would make sim­i­lar con­duct by law­mak­ers il­le­gal, not just im­proper. If passed, the leg­is­la­tion would re­quire law­mak­ers to dis­close any ar­range­ments in which they are be­ing paid or will be paid by com­pa­nies vy­ing for state li­cens- es or awards.

Law­mak­ers are gen­er­ally barred from tak­ing leg­isla­tive ac­tion on bills that could have a di­rect fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit to them or their em­ployer, and the ethics com­mit­tee crit­i­cized Morhaim for ask­ing the Mary­land Med­i­cal Cannabis Com­mis­sion to change the rules for award­ing li­censes to com­pa­nies in a way that could have ben­e­fited Doc­tor’s Or­ders.

The bill await­ing fi­nal ac­tion in the House ex­pands the def­i­ni­tion of leg­isla­tive ac­tion to in­clude tes­ti­mony be­fore state reg­u­la­tors.

“As we went through some is­sues this year with the ethics com­mit­tee, I be­lieve there were some things that we could do a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Busch said at a hear­ing on his ethics bill, which has since been merged with the gov­er­nor’s. “There’s got to be more trans­parency.”

The leg­is­la­tion makes com­pre­hen­sive fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures filed by law­mak­ers avail­able on­line, in­stead of re­quir­ing an in-per­son trip to the State Ethics Com­mis­sion in An­napo­lis. Those who view the fil­ings still must pro­vide their name and home ad­dress, which are for­warded to law­mak­ers whose dis­clo­sures have been viewed.

The leg­is­la­ture re­jected sev­eral ethics pro­vi­sions pushed by Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing strip­ping the Gen­eral Assem­bly of the power to po­lice its mem­bers’ ad­her­ence to ethics rules.

“If leg­is­la­tors are not polic­ing our­selves, there’s ac­count­abil­ity at the polling place,” state Sen. Cheryl C. Ka­gan (D-Mont­gomery) said at a hear­ing on Ho­gan’s bill.

As a com­pro­mise, Democrats agreed to cre­ate a ci­ti­zen ad­vi­sory panel that could rec­om­mend changes to leg­isla­tive ethics laws and poli­cies but would have no in­ves­ti­ga­tory power.

“Is it as strong as we wanted? No. That doesn’t mean that the bill go­ing for­ward won’t do a lot of good for the peo­ple of the state in help­ing to re­store some of that trust that was lost,” Ho­gan spokesman Doug Mayer said. “With the very pub­lic in­dict­ments and eth­i­cal lapses that have oc­curred over the last cou­ple of months, some­thing needed to get done.”

Sep­a­rately, Busch and Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) are push­ing to bar law­mak­ers from work­ing with med­i­cal cannabis com­pa­nies as part of a reg­u­la­tory over­haul of the in­dus­try.

Stacy Fraser, who lives in Up­per Marl­boro in Prince Ge­orge’s, said the re­cent cor­rup­tion cases have left her fo­cused more on can­di­dates’ char­ac­ter than their po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion.

“It’s not about the party any­more,” said Fraser, 41. “It’s the per­son and what their in­ten­tions are.”


Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) helped craft leg­is­la­tion that would in­crease fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure re­quire­ments.

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