Md. Ethics Committee Closes Doors in First Meeting After New Ethics Law

ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 15, 2017)—A Maryland ethics committee closed its session Tuesday following a review of legislator disclaimers, more than a month after a new state ethics law went into effect.

The Maryland Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics met to hear disclosures and disclaimers of conflicts of interest by four lawmakers for seven minutes, and then closed the meeting to discuss confidential matters, citing state law. Committee members refused to answer questions about the hour-and-a-half long closed portion of the meeting.

Delegates Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, Samuel Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County, and James Tarlau, D-Prince George's, submitted disclaimers of conflicts of interest, most of which concerned non-compensated positions.

Bromwell also submitted a disclosure of income form, citing employment with The St. Paul Group, a data reporting company.

Rosenberg's disclaimer cited a potential conflict of interest with the Amazon headquarters location, as he belongs to a hedge fund, the Rothschild Cornerstone Fund, whose holdings in Amazon stock are greater than $25,000.

Deadra Daly, the committee's ethics adviser, stated she saw nothing of particular importance in the public disclosures and disclaimers presented in the meeting.

This is the committee's first meeting after implementation of the Public Integrity Act of 2017, championed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan after a legislative session rife with corruption charges.

The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, addresses ethical concerns such as those raised by the actions of Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, who was reprimanded in March after breaking the spirit, not the letter, of the state's decade old ethics laws.

In addition to establishing a Citizens Advisory Board on Legislative Ethics to recommend new ethics policy, the law also increases the standards for reporting conflicts of interest and other disclosures, and increases bribery fines to a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of $10,000.

Dr. Morhaim advocated for medical marijuana policies to a state commission without explicitly stating his financial relationship to a company seeking a license.

Over the past year, Maryland lawmakers have been troubled with corruption, including Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, D-Baltimore, who was indicted on nine federal fraud and bribery counts in June.

Prince George's County was also embroiled in a corruption case involving the FBI, where, according to authorities, liquor license legislation was advanced in exchange for cash payments.

Former state Delegate William Campos and then-Delegate Michael Vaughn—Democrats from Prince George's County—were both arrested in connection with the federal bribery probe.

Campos pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in January, while Vaughn pleaded not guilty, with a trial date set for February of next year, according to William Purpura, his attorney.

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