ANNAPOLIS – At an anti-slots event near the State House last week, an aide to Sen. Janet Greenip handed reporters a press release from her boss. In the statement, Greenip, an Anne Arundel County Republican, slammed the upcoming slots referendum as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Her stance is not unusual, as a host of politicians, clergy and activist groups are fighting the Nov. 4 ballot item. However, the press release was printed on Greenip’s official Senate stationery, an apparently inadvertent violation of the General Assembly’s ethics rules.
“It all sounds good if you like to gamble,” Greenip said in the statement, “but ultimately the problems we will have to deal with down the road will far outweigh any perceived benefits.”
Buried on page 64.3 of the 2008 Ethics Guide, Ethics Opinion No. 12 outlines the use of General Assembly letterhead and e-mail. Official stationery “provided at taxpayer expense” to a senator or delegate can be used only for government business or constituent services, the opinion says.
It also notes that the assembly’s Ethics Committee has decided that, among other topics, “the success or defeat of a ballot question” cannot be “contained in official correspondence.”
Greenip, 61, said in a phone interview last week that she was unaware of the opinion. She confirmed that the four-paragraph statement was printed on her Senate stationery, but using the watermarked-paper for political purposes “slipped over on me.”
The controversial ballot item would authorize up to 15,000 slot machines throughout the state.
“I didn’t think of it as a political issue,” she said. “I know it’s non-partisan.”
Sen. Norman Stone, co-chair of the Ethics Committee, said in an interview last week that Greenip’s press release is “not the type of violation that calls for drastic stuff,” such as a hearing. On Tuesday, a reporter faxed him a copy of the release, but Stone said later in the day that he had not read it and would not comment further.
Stone said last week that, to his knowledge, William G. Somerville, ethics counsel for the Department of Legislative Services, called Greenip’s office and asked that she not send political statements on government stationery. Somerville declined to comment.
Nevertheless, when the General Assembly convenes in the spring, lawmakers may review the language of Ethics Opinion No.12, Stone said. For example, if a resident writes to legislators asking for their views on a political issue, it’s common to reply on government-issued stationery, he said.
“If you follow that strictly as it’s written,” Stone said of the opinion, “I think everybody violates it.”