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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.

By Phyllis Jordan  |  September 30, 2007; 10:44 AM ET
Categories:  Lisa Rein  
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Next: Coming Up In Maryland Politics


In order for one to heed the words of the ethics counsel, one must first have ethics. The bidding is open. Make your offer.

Posted by: BG from PG | September 30, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

you make no sense, thanks

Posted by: yeah | October 1, 2007 2:40 AM | Report abuse

Ali is one of a few Montgomery County legislators who can think outside the box.

Posted by: Robin Ficker of Robin Realty | October 1, 2007 6:15 AM | Report abuse

As the Ethics Counsel to the General Assembly, I would like to clarify that the memo mentioned in the article was issued on April 12, 2006, in anticipation of the special session convened in that year. I will issue similar advice if a special session if called for this year.

The operative part of the 2006 memo states:
"Keep in mind, however, that legislators are expected to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Therefore, I would advise that campaign fund-raising activities not be scheduled for the express purpose of coinciding with a special session. Moreover, solicitations should not be made while the General Assembly is in special session to individuals or entities specifically affected by the legislation under consideration. Any event that was scheduled prior to the calling of a special session may proceed as planned."

- William Somerville

Posted by: William Somerville | October 1, 2007 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Bill Somerville is no dummy. He says, "Any event that was scheduled prior to the calling of a special session may proced as planned." Ever hear of insider trading Bill? Suppose some legislator in our one party state(remember Republicans were not even invited to O'Malley's budget discussions) happens to learn of the Special Session dates before they are announced and then sets up a fundraiser in Annapolis before the announcement?

Posted by: Robin Ficker of Robin Realty | October 1, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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