BALTIMORE – The University System of Maryland Board of Regents approved a tougher ethics policy for its members on Friday that prohibits paid lobbying and sets stricter standards on conflicts of interest.
The new guidelines elaborate on the one-sentence 1999 policy banning lobbying by regents, under which regent and former Governor Marvin Mandel and former board chair David H. Nevins were investigated by a panel of their fellow board members.
“I think it’s fair to say that [the new guidelines] stemmed from the review of my activities and those of a couple of other board members,” Nevins said.
As the former marketing director of Constellation Energy, Nevins came under scrutiny by the board after he chaperoned Constellation officials to meetings with state legislators. A panel of the board cleared Nevins of any wrongdoing in April.
Shortly after Nevins was cleared, the same audit committee panel found that Mandel had violated the policy by lobbying for pay during the 2004, 2005 and 2006 legislative sessions.
“What happened when these issues were raised this past spring was that people recognized that there were really no standards or guidelines to drive this policy,” said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland.
Taken directly from the 1999 law governing regents ethics, the policy read, “A member of the Board of Regents shall not, for compensation, assist or represent any party in any matter before the General Assembly.”
Ann Moultrie, spokeswoman for the board of regents, said the old ethics policy had “some ambiguity.”
The same panel that investigated Nevins and Mandel went to the attorney general’s office to get a detailed interpretation of the law, said Kirwan.
After the board drafted more detailed guidelines, they took them back to the General Assembly for review, to make sure their interpretation was consistent with the original aim of the law.The assembly approved and sent the guidelines back to the board.
The language of the new ethics guidelines states that members cannot accept payment to “communicate with an official or employee of the General Assembly for the purpose of influencing legislative action…”
Specific exceptions include communicating with legislators on official regents business and representing one’s own employer or profession at the legislature – provided that talking to General Assembly staff is a normal part of the job.
Under the new guidelines, board members cannot engage in talks with lawmakers that create – or even appears to be – a conflict of interest with their duties as regents.
Regents are also prohibited from using the prestige of board membership for personal or professional gain. “Obviously we want the public to have a great deal of confidence in the board,” Nevins said.