State Officials' Ethics Disclosures to Go Online - Southern Maryland Headline News

State Officials' Ethics Disclosures to Go Online

By Daniel Menefee,

ANNAPOLIS—State lawmakers and their executive appointees would now post their required ethics statements on the Internet beginning January 2013, if the governor signs the bill as expected.

“We’ve passed the Online Disclosure Act and brought our ethics regime into the 21st century,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, minutes after its passage. He said 29 other states have some form of online disclosure for elected officials.

The new law (2012 Senate Bill 920) passed just moments before the official end of the 2012 legislative session.

Privacy concerns

A Senate amendment that added county executives and their appointees to the online requirement was scrapped by the House Environmental Matters Committee over privacy concerns of lawmakers in small jurisdictions. Friends and neighbors could access mortgage and credit card information that an average citizen normally wouldn’t share with a close friend, said Les Knapp, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

“We believe there is a different level of power and geographic scope,” said Knapp, “A county official wields commensurately less power and affects a smaller geographic area than a state official.”

He believes there is no legitimate reason for a resident of far western Maryland to need information on a local official on the lower Eastern Shore.

Knapp said MACo was not against financial disclosures readily available at the local level–where citizens can request and get the disclosure information from county and municipal offices. A new law passed in 2010 (2010 Senate Bill 315) requires local officials to file the same disclosure statements as state lawmakers–beginning April 30 of this year.

“Local residents will be able to go to the nearest municipal office and get this information,” Knapp said.

Personal information on mortgages, credit cards

Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City, chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee, was originally skeptical of the bill because of personal information she thought could lead to identity theft, such as the names of mortgage and credit card companies.

Her concerns were based on a personal experience where a new username and password was given to her over the phone without proper vetting of her identity.

She said the bill as amended will enhance greater transparency but protect state lawmakers’ most personal information.

“We’re putting the same conflict interest forms online that we’re required to do in print, which is forms A through E, but we’re adding a form “F” to report our outside employment and the employment of a spouse,” McIntosh said.

The law also creates a joint committee to oversee implementation of the new law, McIntosh said.

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