Watch Them Squirm

April 12, 1995

It is always amusing to watch politicians squirm after being treated the same as real people. How many plain folks stopped for speeding would claim their breaking the law was the officer's fault -- for not catching them sooner?

Yet that's what some members of the Baltimore City Council did when confronted with the fact they were nine weeks late in filing campaign finance reports: They pointed their fingers at the law enforcers rather than at themselves.

Sixth District Councilman Joseph DiBlasi blamed state election officials for not notifying him sooner that he had missed the deadline for filing a supplement to his 1994 re-election campaign finance report. "If anybody made a mistake here, they did," said Mr. DiBlasi.

In his case, he may have a point. Rebecca M. Wicklund, director of campaign finances for the state election board, says all elected officials and candidates who have continuing campaign committees were asked to file a supplemental finance report by Jan. 31.

But Mr. DiBlasi says the finance report requests were only sent to the campaign treasurers, not the candidates themselves, and his treasurer never received the notice because it was apparently mailed to the wrong address. He's got an excuse for not filing on time; the first time that's ever happened, according to Mr. DiBlasi. However, only eight of the 18 council members filed the supplementary reports by the deadline.

Moreover, a review of financial statements council members filed in past years reveals a host of errors that indicate the councilmen didn't think the reports were important enough to make sure they were accurate.

Such an attitude has become too prevalent among elected officials, and not just on the local level. Some politicians don't see anything wrong with imposing laws for others, but they find rules and regulations that apply to them too restrictive.

Council members who missed the Jan. 31 filing deadline won't be fined because the supplements, covering the last three months of the past year, are a new requirement not yet covered by law. But that doesn't exonerate them.

Financial disclosure is important to the election process. Voters want to know where the candidates get their money and how it is spent. Politicians should always fill out the reports carefully and make sure they are submitted for public scrutiny on time. Their reputations are on the line.

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