ANNAPOLIS – Existing ethics laws are sufficient, said some Maryland lobbyists responding to recommendations by a study committee to impose tougher laws governing their conduct.
The recommendations were drafted Wednesday by the Study Commission on Lobbyist Ethics, which will submit them as a bill to the General Assembly in January.
The proposal calls for 15 new laws regulating lobbyists and requiring more detailed reporting of political contributions from businesses. The plan also would require lobbyists to report, within two weeks, the time, place and sponsors of special events held for individuals and legislative groups.
Most of the lobbyists contacted did agree with a key section of the bill calling for greater enforcement powers for the State Ethics Commission.
“The more supervision, the better the process is – not only from the point of view of actuality, but from the point of view of perception,” said Dennis C. McCoy, a lobbyist representing companies ranging from Sega Gameworks Inc., to Phillip Morris Management. “I think the public should have faith and confidence in the process.”
If passed by the Assembly next session, the bill would expand the power of the Ethics Commission to fine lobbyists for unethical conduct as well as suspend or revoke their registration. As the law stands now, lobbyists can lose their license to practice law, but there is nothing stopping them from lobbying the State House again.
Many of the lobbyists contacted said the bill is unnecessary.
“We’ve got too many laws on the subject now, and all the laws that you pass just give credence to the thought that there’s something wrong with the system,” said lobbyist James J. Doyle Jr., who withdrew from the committee early on because he disagreed with its purpose.
“These people are honest,” he said of state lawmakers. “They come down here. They take an oath of office. They do the best they can to do what’s right for their constituents, and they’re not for sale – and lobbyists aren’t buying.”
Lobbyist Ira C. Cooke, who counts the American Resort Development Corp. and the Maryland Bail Bond Association among his clients, agreed new laws are unnecessary. In more than 20 years as an advocate in the State House, he said he has never testified or served on ethics committees, but he may voice concerns this time.
“I’ve always adopted the position that whatever the laws are, I’ll do my best to follow them,” Cooke said, “but this is enough of a change that I may want to comment to the commission.”
Donald B. Robertson, chairman of the study commission, praised the recommended laws before finalizing them, saying they would “shine a light” on lobbyist activities in Annapolis.
Robertson had argued for provisions that went even further than those approved during the five-hour session Wednesday, including a total ban on campaign contributions by lobbyists.
The study commission was formed in response to several high-profile ethical violations in recent years. Lobbyist Gerard E. Evans was convicted in July on nine counts of mail fraud stemming from a scheme to defraud his clients by convincing them that a fictional bill would be introduced in the House of Delegates that could have resulted in costly litigation against them.
Another lobbyist, Bruce Bereano, was convicted of federal mail fraud in 1994 and just returned to the State House halls last session. And in 1998, Baltimore Democrat Larry Young was expelled from the Senate. That same year Delegate Gerald E. Curran, D-Baltimore, resigned from the House of Delegates over questionable business dealings.
The study commission is expected to release a report early in October explaining the reasoning behind its recommendations.