ANNAPOLIS – A bill requiring lobbyists to disclose business transactions with lawmakers passed the Maryland General Assembly Thursday, but critics said it’s not inclusive enough and called it a “feel good” measure.
The proposal was one of two introduced this session by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, and House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, after Delegate Tony Fulton, D-Baltimore, and lobbyist Gerard Evans were indicted in December for an elaborate mail and wire fraud scheme.
The leaders also offered a ban on lobbyist-lawmaker business relationships over $500, but that measure failed.
Miller had no comment on the bill’s passage.
Under the bill, lobbyists are required to report business transactions worth at least $1,000 or a series of transactions worth at least $5,000 within a six-month period with lawmakers and top state officials – adding to an already long list of State Ethics Commission reporting requirements.
“I believe in full disclosure,” said Greg Costa, a National Rifle Association lobbyist. “Everyone should disclose. I think this whole town is a paragon of integrity. I think full disclosure should be easy.”
Sen. Michael Collins, D-Baltimore County, who led debate in the Senate, said the bill was “a very modest” step.
He originally asked leadership to await recommendations of the lobbyist ethics taskforce, of which he is a member, before passing any bills. The task force, appointed by the Legislature, is expected to report in September.
But, Collins said, Miller asked him for support and he wasn’t going to spend political capital fighting it.
However, some did fight.
Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, tried to amend the bill to include governmental lobbyists. State and local government representatives aren’t required to register with the State Ethics Commission when pushing legislative initiatives.
The state, especially the governor, uses taxpayer money to lobby legislators to vote for administration initiatives, Colburn said. He was referring to funding promises Gov. Parris N. Glendening made to legislators in exchange for support on Glendening’s controversial gun-control bill.
“If you’re trying to buy votes with corporate or business money or taxpayer dollars, what’s the difference? You’re still trying to buy votes,” he said.
Colburn’s amendment failed and the bill went on to pass the Senate 40-5. It passed the House March 24, 125-10.
While the bill’s passage is a good step forward, Maryland Common Cause, a public watchdog, wanted a broader bill, said Kathleen Skullney, executive director.
Like Colburn, she said she wanted governmental as well as corporate agencies included. Under the bill, disclosure is only required of individual lobbyists.
For example, while both Skullney, as an individual, and Maryland Common Cause, as an organization, are registered lobbyists only Skullney would have to disclose business transactions, she said.
Banning business relationships over $500, as the leadership’s other bill did, is a more complicated issue, Skullney said.
“A blanket prohibition is a very difficult approach at best,” she said.
Now that the General Assembly has approved disclosure, Collins said he wondered whether the Legislature would have any interest in passing a ban, even though the task force will consider such a measure in May.
Legislative leaders originally planned to wait for the task force’s recommendations before drafting any ethics legislation. But after the indictments of Fulton and Evans, the measures moved forward.
The men are charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud in what the grand jury said was a scheme to defraud Evans’ lobbying clients. Fulton, who is a real estate agent, was also paid $10,125 for finding Evans’ lobbying firm a new Annapolis office.