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Updated: Baker proposes ethics reform package for Prince George's government

Jonathan Mummolo

After his campaign kicked off amid questions from a rival and the news media over transparency issues, Prince George's County executive candidate Rushern L. Baker III announced a sweeping series of proposed ethics reforms Monday that he would seek to enact if elected to the county's top post.

The long list of proposals tackles apparent indiscretions and conflicts of interest that current and recent county officials have been scrutinized for, including: The use of county-issued credit cards for personal expenses; and the use of a so-called loophole in state law to accept otherwise banned contributions from developers.

"I'm going to move this government to the highest of ethical standards with comprehensive ethics reform," the former delegate said in a statement. "The county's image has been blighted because of unethical contracting allegations and abuses; we can't create jobs and grow our economy when politicians can't see past their personal self interests."

Baker also proposed capping non-personal loans to campaigns and slates of candidates. Ironically, the proposal would appear to make a $200,000 loan made this year to Baker's slate, County 1 Now, illegal. The loan came from local apartment complex mogul David Hillman, and Baker released the slate's donors after ongoing questions from journalists and rivals over their identities.

Baker also proposed creating a County Inspector General to police ethics conduct and perform annual ethics audits, and updating the county Web site to make all government salaries, contracts and grants available online. See all his proposals below, as provided by the campaign.

UPDATE, 7:15 p.m.
Baker campaign spokesman James Adams said although Baker's own ethics
package would make a loan like the one his slate received this year
illegal in the future, it would have been "suicide" to adhere to that
proposed standard this election year, since other candidates would
have had an advantage.

"We didn't want to unilaterally disarm ourselves in this campaign
year, but we firmly believe there need to be controls and we think the
controls should be fairly stringent," Adams said. "But in this
political year...we're going to play by the rules like everyone else.
...We don't want to handicap ourselves within the current system but
we're saying hey, this really needs to change. ...But we cant run in
this race with one leg tied behind us....that would be suicide for
us."

RUSHERNBAKER2010
RAISING OUR STANDARDS
The First Thirty Days as County Executive Thru:
Executive Order
Introduction of Legislation to the County Council
Introduction of Legislation to the House of Delegates

Prohibit County Credit Cards for Elected Officials

Elected officials, including Members of the County Council, the County Executive and members of the School Board would be prohibited by law from having county credit cards. Instead, elected officials would be required to submit their expense reimbursements like other government employees. All elected officials' expenses would be reviewed by the Office of Finance. Although the County Council suspended its usage of credit cards after irregularities were revealed, this proposal would codify the ban on credit cards and apply to all of these elected officials, including the County Executive.

[County cards can be prohibited by executive order, School Board by state legislation]

Prohibit Gifts, Meals and Beverages for County Officials

Executive Branch members would not be permitted to knowingly accept a meal, beverages or gifts, directly or indirectly, from a person or entity that does business with the County government, is a regulated by the County government, has a financial interest in the performance of the official's duties which is distinguishable from the public generally, or is registered lobbyist. Ceremonial gifts and gifts of a nominal value would be exempted, as well as meals in which all council members and members of the public are invited. State legislators are already subject to these restrictions.

[Executive branch members can be prohibited by executive order. A County ordinance would be necessary to govern the legislative branch.]

State Ethics Law Loophole Closed

The loophole in the State ethics law which allows development interests to contribute to county council members through artificial "slates" would be closed. This proposal would prevent the artificial pairing of county council members with other elected officials solely for purposes of evading the requirements of the State ethics law. The intention of the ethics law was to prevent developers from excessive influence over council members who enjoy regulatory authority over them in land use cases.

[Requires state legislation.]

Campaign Loans Restricted

Non-personal campaign loans would be limited to the amounts allowed by law for contributions, rather than the current unlimited loans allowed by law. Loans to slates and candidates are capped at the same out as contribution limits.

[Requires state legislation.]

County Council Interference with Planning Board Decisions Prohibited.

County Council members would be prohibited from "calling up" decisions of the Planning Board. The Council would be limited to hearing legitimate appeals from citizens and interested parties from Planning Board decisions. This change to state law would prevent Council members from interfering on their own in uncontested decisions by the County's professional planning agency and still preserve the rights of citizens and civic associations to appeal decisions when necessary.

[Requires state legislation.]

Full Disclosure

Any person receiving lobbying fees or holding any interest in the outcome of a decision before the Council, including interests in real property or entities holding real property, would be required to fully disclose such interests before the Council takes action.

[Requires state legislation.]

Transparent Government Online

Prince George's County government must become transparent to its citizens. The County Web site must open government to the public. The current Web site does not meet modern standards of accountability and transparency. All county contracts will be placed online. All County salaries will be reported online. The County budget will be placed online, as well as all federal, state and private grant money. All zoning cases will be placed online.

[Can be accomplished by executive order.]

Inspector General

The County will create an office of Inspector General to investigate waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and conflicts-of-interest in the County government. The Inspector General must be professionally qualified with a background in auditing and public financial management. The Inspector General must be selected based on ability and integrity, without regard to political affiliation. The Inspector General will be appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council for a fixed term of office that is staggered and non-concurrent with the Executive and Council. The office of inspector general will have its own staff and will enjoy subpoena power. The Inspector General will conduct investigations, review financial managements, examine potential conflicts-of-interest, conduct performance audits and similar reviews, make recommendations, public findings, and make referrals to law enforcement agencies. The Inspector General will also conduct annual ethics audits of locally elected officials and make results public.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]

County Council Slates

Council members whose individual and slate committees have received contributions from firms with business before the council and exceed the sum of $5,000 must recuse themselves from any vote or debate on any pending funding, permit, or project.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]

County Council Lobbyists

Lobbyist must file a contribution summary of their clients to elected officials in Maryland, which is posted on the internet prior to each council session; Lobbyist are to be prohibited from fund raising for candidates for any locally-elected office in Prince George's.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]

Contractors

Respondents to Requests for Proposals must submit a summary of their contributions in the last 36 months to campaign committees, slates, candidates, political action committees, and special event committees, or charities on which a Council member or County Executive sits on a board or governing body.

[Can be accomplished by county ordinance.]


By Jonathan Mummolo  |  May 17, 2010; 5:35 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  
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Comments

When politicians can't see past their personal self interests they end up proposing reform and legislation that they wouldn't adhere to themselves. The irony of Mr. Baker's campaign spokesman is laughable. On the one hand the candidate attacks others for being selfish and on the other hand his spokesperson admits that HIS candidate is SELFISH....."Suicide?".... I think the Baker Campaign just committed POLITICAL SUICIDE....

Posted by: YoungPrinceGeorgian | May 17, 2010 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Want FAKE ethics reform? Just propose reform like the one above. Not following your OWN reform?.................Pathetic.

Posted by: YoungPrinceGeorgian | May 17, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

People are now calling Baker - "Loan Shark" The article forgot to mention that this guy has taken nearly $1M from the same developer, for 3 losing campaigns. No thanks there Mr. Sharky!

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 17, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

I would love to see those reforms enacted. It would take the county to another level.

Posted by: Hellmut | May 17, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

This doesn't surprise me one bit, given the fact that not only is he a walking contradiction but is campaign is as well.

Dear Mr. Baker,
Sir please don't introduce something that you "claim" will take our county goverment to another level ethically then turn around and not do it yourself. It seems like "business as usual", well I shouldn't expect you to change now (its only you third time running, and losing). Honestly I'm not all confident in the policy you want to set in place and by the looks of things, neither are you. It seems that your administration will be that of one which it's excutive leads (or lack there of) by the "DO AS I SAY, AND NOT AS I DO" motto. Mr. Baker, that which is good for the goose is good for the gander, well atleast it use to be.

Wondering why your still running,
YPG23

Posted by: YOUNGPRINCEGEORGIAN23 | May 17, 2010 11:28 PM | Report abuse

Please, if we followed the suggestions of posters who are afraid to post under their own names, reformers would never win and nothing would ever get better.

Elections are competitions. The same rules ought to apply to everyone.

Only a fool would demand that the best candidate bears a burden that no other candidate has to bear.

Posted by: Hellmut | May 18, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Just trying to understand: he's a bad guy for taking loans that he has to pay back with interest and he's a bad guy for suggesting the law should be changed so no one can take large loans in the future? The other candidates have offered no meaningful ethics reform, so he's definitely the bad guy, right?

Posted by: Whatisthepointagain | May 18, 2010 8:17 AM | Report abuse

You have to win before you can change anything. Baker is playing by the existing rules and offering a better way to govern that is more transparent and does not lend itself to the abuses those of us that live in and love this county have been embarrassed to see over the years and recently.

Nobody else running other than Baker has met the challenge to be transparent beyond what the existing law requires.

Posted by: ntutt3 | May 18, 2010 8:29 AM | Report abuse

Hellmut:

Explain how a guy who has taken nearly $1 million in LOANS, not donations, is a reformer? Your aplogia is laughable. Can't even take you serious. Baker is a loan shark.

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 18, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

No, he's not bad..Baker is just plain awful! He's lost the County Executive race in Prince George's twice...that means 2x's...ntutt3...whatisthepointagain..and Hellmut. Nearly $1 million in loans from other people. It would be one thing if he had loand himself the money. I could respect that. Rushern Baker offering reform advice is like an arsonist giving fire safety tips to the fire department.

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 18, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Reform would start with giving back the $200k just like Obama did when it came out he had funds from questionable donors!!!! This is typical political spin...If he were to give it back then we can talk but what good he will just find another way to funnel it through!!!

Posted by: BeanYPG | May 18, 2010 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Got to agree with the ntutt3, whatisthepointagain, and Helmutt on one thing: No other candidate has taken nearly $1 million in loans from just one guy to "finance" their third losing campaign.

Rushern Baker wouldn't even be able to get a basic security clearance from the US government for mail clerk because of all the loans he has taken out. Anyone who has ever applied for a federal job knows that one of the highest security risks (ethical, vulnerability to blackmail, etc.) is related to the amount of debt/loans a person has...and this guy is PG's best hope?...more like another 8 years of scandals and investigations.

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 18, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

For all the latest on Rushern "Loan Shark" Baker, see the following website:

http://maryland-politics.blogspot.com/search?q=rushern+baker


Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 18, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

With one had giveth... yet the other taketh? That has never been copasetic.

@Hellmut -

"Elections are competitions." - that is your first problem. Elections are much more than that.

"Only a fool would demand that the best candidate bears a burden that no other candidate has to bear." - Sorry that I am a fool and want him to raise money just like everyone else.

Do people on here know how to structure an argument and defend it? This is pathetic.

Your arguments (deductive in this case) incorrectly assume that the truth of the conclusion is a logical consequence of the premises (of which there are no valid and sound premises). The argument is INVALID because the conclusion is NOT a logical consequence of the premises.

Get your game up and then come back to the table. Young Prince Georgians will continue to fight for the TRUTH. YPG 2010

Posted by: YOUNGPRINCEGEORGIAN23 | May 18, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Well then....On To The Next One.

Posted by: YoungPrinceGeorgian | May 18, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

seriously, the guy offered REAL reform. Let's give him some credit.

Posted by: PGDEM | May 18, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Applying stricter rules to yourself while all your competitors do not is a recipe for defeat, Young Prince.

Causal arguments need to assume that all things are being equal. I made the mistake to believe that you would know that. In your logic textbook, you can look up "all things being equal" under the technical terms of Ceteris Paribus.

All things being equal, reformers like Baker would lose if they followed your advice. Whether you get it or not, that's the logic of competitions.

Prince George's County will improve when the Baker ethics reforms are enacted. Self-righteousness is just another obstacle to progress.

Posted by: Hellmut | May 18, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

Real reform??? Give him credit??? Again, even an arsonist understands fire prevention and safety tips - should they be applauded for provided real fire safety and prevention tips too??? Rushern, you need some better hacks fella. PG has been talking reform for years. The real reform is to avoid this guy like the plauge. He is a two time loser for a reason. Gotta think that PG can and should do better.

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 18, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

For all the latest on Rushern "Loan Shark" Baker, see the following website:


http://maryland-politics.blogspot.com/search?q=rushern+baker

He's a joke. For his hacks to cast him as a reformer is an even bigger joke.

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 18, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

In an attempt to elevate the debate, I’ll dismiss the comments of all the previous posters as a bunch of partisan crap that really says less than zero, and does not warrant a response. That should rile them up.

Upfront disclosure, I voted Rushern for CE twice in the past, and may do so again. I’m also open to voting Gerron Levi. Last two times I was not open to voting for Rushern’s opponent. For me, with Rushern, the climb has gotten steeper. There seems a viable alternative.

Here’s the substance of my response to the WaPo post. Rushern is on the ropes, (with good reason, given his financial disclosures). That said, he has proposed substantial reform, and the question is, what can he, or any other CE deliver?

Rushern has proposed ten major reforms listed in the piece above. Some can be accomplished simply by Executive Order, others require either County or State legislation, which makes their adoption more difficult.

Too many issues for one post, so I’ll focus on just one, The Inspector General.
Baker proposes that the IG should be selected by the CE and approved by the CC. Seems like a recipe for disaster to me. The function of an IG is to audit/investigate the Executive Branch Departments.

As an alternative to Baker's proposal, better that the County Council select an IG that is confirmed by the CE, rather than the other way around. Avoids the claim that the IG is in the pocket of the CE (one person).

Posted by: countbobulescu | May 18, 2010 11:32 PM | Report abuse

WOW.

TO EVERYONE GIVING BAKER UNLIMITED HALL PASSES ON THIS:

By proposing ETHICS reform BAKER is implying, or rather declaring that he believes the current political conduct that his 'reforms' purport to eliminate is UNETHICAL and should have the consequence of law in order to clean up the cesspool of bad ethics. THE PROBLEM that defenders of BAKER are dismissing is that BAKER is in broad daylight showing his willingness to engage in UNETHICAL conduct as long as it doesn't have the consequence of law, as long as everybody else is doing it AND then once he rises by any lawful - though questionable - means, he plans to burn the bridge he crossed so no one else can legally do the same. IF THIS IS OPENLY ACCEPTABLE TO ANY PRINCE GEORGIAN, NO WONDER WHY PROBLEMS PERSIST. Tell Baker to do the right thing and get his current campaign in line with his own ethics proposals. IMO It's hypocritical otherwise. Ask him. Challenge him. Maybe he'll do it. But don't settle. Demand more.

Posted by: blackterrapin | May 19, 2010 12:50 AM | Report abuse

countbobulescu: Well put. Good idea on the IG job. But why do you think Baker is on the ropes? He just a huge endorsement from SEIU who is the strongest and most active labor union in Maryland.

Posted by: PGDEM | May 19, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

Wow! Amen blackterrapin. Not sure if countboblescu elevated anything but his blood pressure. By offering the "reform" package, Baker in fact casts an unpleasant light on his own sordid behavior -talk about irony! Everything you need to know about Baker is right here at the following website...run by Democrats I might add:

http://maryland-politics.blogspot.com/search?q=rushern+baker

The Rushern "Loan Shark" Baker Files

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 19, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Also, countboblescu, your post is incorrect. The position of the IG can inspect ANY branch of government, not JUST the county executive. You may be referencing the flawed model currently in place in Montgomery County - their county council is moving to change this - a system where the county executive essentially controls the IG which leaves the office vulnerable to undue political interference.

Every federal agency has an office of the IG. Now, with Baker's campaign contribution history ($1M in loans from one guy) again, to take out so many loans from one person would raise all kinds of flags from Homeland Security to the US Postmaster. I would even raise the prospect that if elected county executive, Baker wouldn't be able to get a secret security clearance because of his contribution history.


Posted by: george_w_bush0 | May 19, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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