ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland General Assembly, looking to save face after a delegate was indicted and lobbyist convicted in an improper relationship, debated legislation Wednesday to more strictly regulate lobbyists.
House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, stressed these new regulations are necessary to alter the perception of unethical behavior and aren’t indicative of a “culture of corruption.”
“[People] like to think that realities set our reputations, but I don’t think that’s true,” Taylor said. “We’re here to protect our reputations.”
State lawmakers rushed a hearing on Senate and House ethics bills to committee that would place even greater regulations on lobbyists.
Legislators, who passed a law in 1999 prohibiting lobbyists from buying meals for individual legislators, have steadily increased their regulation of lobbyists over the last several years.
The bills come less than a year after this summer’s conviction of lobbyist Gerard Evans for conspiring to have Delegate Tony Fulton, D-Baltimore, propose anti-lead-poisoning legislation that he would oppose, while paint companies paid him a bonus.
Under the proposed regulations, lobbyists would be required to submit a report five days in advance for any dinner or gathering that legislators may attend. They would then be required to submit a report 14 days after the event to the State Ethics Commission detailing the costs of the gathering.
However, the new regulations create much more paperwork that could be overwhelming to the lobbyists as well as government officials who regulate them.
John O’Donnell, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, told the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee that he would not support the bill unless it was accompanied by an increase in funding of at least $186,000.
His main sticking point was the bill’s mandate requiring the commission to create an electronic list of all lobbyist campaign contributions. The commission doesn’t currently have the staff necessary to create the list or to enforce the other new regulations created by the bill, he said.
Some legislators also expressed concerns about the increase in red tape for lobbyists. Delegate B. Daniel Riley, D-Harford, a member of the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee, said some of the regulations, especially the report required 14-days after any event, would make, “honest people dishonest people.”
“The thing is, sometimes we pass legislation that turns into law that hurts people,” he said. “We set up a lot of red tape and when they don’t comply we point the finger of death at them.”
Taylor and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s, both expressed their support of the two bills, with Taylor urging the committees to send the bills to floor as quickly as possible.
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