A culture of integrity

October 10, 2002

MARYLAND'S ETHICS Commission has voted unanimously to bar convicted felon and lobbyist Gerard E. Evans from his once-lucrative trade before the General Assembly of Maryland. It's a vote in determined defense of the lawmaking process and of the General Assembly's integrity.

Convicted in July 2000 of defrauding businesses that hired him to protect their interests, Mr. Evans went right from serving a sentence in federal prison to Annapolis, where he hoped to resume his labors as if nothing had happened.

In his absence, though, and largely in response to his crimes, the Assembly passed a law regulating lobbyists and requiring them to be licensed. Had the ethics commission approved his return, it would have been saying that corrupters of the process cannot be kept out of state government. Clearly this is not so.

Acting under the new law and under its reading of powers granted to regulatory or licensing agencies, the commission asked for and then set aside a ruling by the attorney general's office that held that Mr. Evans could not be sanctioned under a law passed after his conviction. The legality of the commission's ruling may be appealed. But there can be no question of its appropriateness.

Mr. Evans' crime struck at the heart of the lawmaking process. He was convicted of misrepresenting or exaggerating legislation that threatened the economic interests of several businesses and selling himself as a man who could prevent that legislation from passing.

When Mr. Evans was convicted, a federal judge declared that his crimes were part of a "culture of corruption" in Annapolis. That characterization embarrassed many, and corruption has become an issue in this year's race for governor. Spokesmen for both Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Republican, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democrat, said they fully support the ethics commission's decision.

To respond in any other way would have suggested that corrupters of the process had immunity. In some other cases raising ethical concerns, the Assembly has not always acted with the same clarity. To allow Mr. Evans' return, one of the commissioners said, would have been to endorse "a lawless society." Precisely.

Members of the commission proceeded in this case as if their finding would have broad impact. That, of course, must be the legacy of the ruling. Over the years, the Assembly has passed an array of lobbying reforms. Too often, they have not dissuaded those who believe the big fees require the hired gun lobbyists to push the boundaries of ethics and the law.

Now everyone can see the cost of behaving with a blind and cavalier eye. Mr. Evans, for example, who made more than $1 million in 1998, may now be forced to find other work.

This ruling comes in the name of those who are devoted to the honorable and arduous process of lawmaking, and whose culture is one of public service.

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