Ethics Adviser: Raise Revenue, Not Campaign Cash
Amid the buzz in Annapolis about a possible special session of the General Assembly this fall, the legislature's ethics counsel warned lawmakers last week about seeking campaign donations as they vote on closing Maryland's projected budget shortfall.
State law prohibits legislators from raising money during the annual 90-day session that starts in January. But the law does not apply to special sessions, which happen every couple of years.
"That said, I believe it would be improper for members to utilize the increased leverage available during a special session in order to enhance their fundraising efforts," William G. Somerville, the ethics adviser, wrote in a memo to the General Assembly. He said that lawmakers "are expected to avoid even the appearance of impropriety" and advised them not to schedule fundraisers "for the express purpose of coinciding with a special session."
Lawmakers might read that to mean: Be careful if you take contributions from gambling interests, because slot machine gambling is on the table as part of a revenue-raising package that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is proposing.
It's tricky, though. The holidays are traditionally a time for fundraising. O'Malley has said he wants to call a special session in November. However, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has said he thinks the budget issues can be resolved when the assembly convenes in January.
The fundraising issue was raised by Del. Saqib Ali (D-Montgomery), who has said in the past that he opposes slots and wants to ban all fundraising if the governor calls a special session.
"No matter how one feels about slot machine gambling, I think this would be a terrible way for the legislature to conduct its business," Ali said. At the very least, he said, lawmakers should disclose their campaign contributions immediately before and after a special session, rather than wait until Jan. 1, when donations must be disclosed.
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