Ethics panel advises legislators to divulge links with nonprofits Alternative is not voting on groups' requests for aid

March 13, 1998|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Maryland lawmakers who serve on boards of nonprofit groups should make their roles known or abstain from voting on requests for state aid, the legislature's ethics committee advised yesterday.

In an opinion distributed to the General Assembly, the panel told legislators that even their participation in charitable organizations should be made public to avoid any appearance of favoritism.

The ethics advisory comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in the state legislature after the embarrassing allegations that two key committee chairmen blurred the lines between their public duties and private businesses.

More lawmakers than ever before have sought advice since the expulsion of Sen. Larry Young and the resignation of Del. Gerald J. Curran. Several asked whether they should sponsor bond bills for nonprofit organizations, even if they are unpaid board directors.

Questions also were raised after a recent complaint against two Baltimore lawmakers who have pushed through $950,000 in bond bills to a project outside their district that is headed by a woman who is their campaign treasurer and a leader of their political club.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden and Del. Hattie N. Harrison, both East Baltimore Democrats, have obtained state grants through bond bills for three years for the multimillion-dollar office building that Marie Washington is nearly finished developing on North Gay Street.

McFadden has another $300,000 bond bill for the project before the legislature this year. Harrison chairs the governing board of a community action coalition that gave Washington a $514,000 federal grant last year for a job program that operates out of the building.

Both legislators have said they maintain a distinction between Washington's political work and her development of the office and job center.

Yesterday's ethics advisory said "membership on the board of an entity could be viewed as causing a legislator to be more favorably inclined toward that entity than to similar entities with which the legislator is not affiliated."

As a result, legislators were urged to disclose their board positions on their ethics reports -- or recuse themselves from voting on state money for the group.

McFadden welcomed the opinion, because he has already disclosed that he is on the board of East Baltimore Community Corp. "I'm covered by the disclaimer," he said.

The East Baltimore corporation, a nonprofit group for which Washington is a paid director, runs the Fair Chance job program. Washington's for-profit development group -- which is building offices for both the job program and state government -- is connected to the community corporation and the job program.

Bond proceeds are sent to the Fair Chance board. The board -- virtually identical to the board of Washington's for-profit East Baltimore Enterprises -- uses the money for construction of the offices, not for the job program.

But the complaint to the legislature's ethics committee about the roles McFadden and Harrison played in boosting the project is still pending, said Del. Kenneth C. Montague, a co-chairman and Baltimore Democrat.

He emphasized that the ethics advisory to the General Assembly was not related to the complaint, saying the committee had received questions for several years from lawmakers who serve as unpaid directors of tax-exempt organizations.

"It's an issue that confronts many of us," Montague said, noting he decided not to sponsor a bond bill for a nonprofit group this year because of his involvement.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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