Bill to halt legislator, lobbyist deals to be offered

Assembly leaders also plan second bill for disclosure

February 05, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

General Assembly leaders will push ahead with a bill to ban business transactions between legislators and State House lobbyists, but will also propose a compromise measure that would simply require disclosure of any such dealings.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said they are committed to enacting the business ban but acknowledged that the idea is unpopular with many lawmakers and lobbyists, who say it could make innocent transactions illegal.

Taylor said he instructed his staff to rewrite the legislation in response to the concerns. "If there was poison in our original draft, we have to get the poison out of it."

"It's safe to say the speaker and I continue to favor a complete ban," Miller said. "But that has apparently faced a wave of questions from people who don't think there's a problem with minute transactions."

Taylor and Miller proposed the business ban in December after the indictments of a West Baltimore delegate and a State House lobbyist who had been involved in a real estate deal.

Along with the ban, Taylor and Miller are poised to introduce a new version of legislation first proposed a decade ago by former Sen. Julian L. Lapides of Baltimore, which would require the disclosure of business transactions with lobbyists.

"If we can't muster enough votes [for the ban], then certainly it's the least that can be expected," Miller said. "If there is to be any business relationship between an advocate and an elected official, it should be fully disclosed."

A study commission looking at ethics laws considered the idea of a ban last month and concluded the matter was too complicated to be tackled without further study.

"Although the members of the Study Commission feel that there is considerable benefit to be gained in tightening provisions in this area, there was a consensus that the complicated nature of the issue requires considerable further analysis," its chairman, former Del. Donald B. Robertson, wrote in a letter to Miller and Taylor.

The commission concluded, for example, that a legislator shouldn't necessarily be barred from using a law firm with a lobbyist in its ranks.

Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, has expressed concern about the proposal but applauded the Assembly leaders for putting both pieces of legislation out for consideration.

"I think at the very least you're going to get a genuine hashing out of the pros and cons of both approaches," Skullney said. She reserved judgment until she had seen the bills, which are expected to be introduced Monday.

The idea of a ban on business transactions arose after a federal grand jury indicted Del. Tony E. Fulton and lobbyist Gerard E. Evans on mail fraud charges for allegedly conspiring to generate lobbying fees for Evans.

As part of the alleged scheme, Evans and his lobbying partner steered a $10,125 real estate commission to Fulton, a real estate agent, in the purchase of their Annapolis office building.

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