Ethics panel clears State House lobbyist

Genn has represented companies on both sides of voting-machine debate

November 08, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

A State House lobbyist says he has been cleared of allegations that his relationship with two clients with opposing roles in the debate over touch-screen electronic voting posed a conflict of interest.

"I am extremely gratified that the State Ethics Commission performed a thorough and thoughtful review of the allegations before it ruled that there is no `factual basis to pursue the matter any further,'" said lobbyist Gilbert J. Genn, a former Montgomery County delegate, in a written statement released yesterday.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. asked for an ethics commission review of Genn's dual roles as a registered lobbyist for Diebold Election Systems, the makers of touch-screen voting machines, and for Science Applications International Corp., a consulting firm chosen by the governor to review potential security flaws in the voting machines.

Ehrlich aides have said they did not know that Genn was registered to represent both clients until after the consultant's review was completed.

The dual representation raised questions about whether Gill was in a position to share early information about what the consultants found or influence the final report.

An attorney with the ethics commission said he could not confirm or deny that Genn had been cleared of conflict allegations, because state law prohibits the release of information until either the lobbyist signs a waiver or a violation is found.

"The law says that matters are confidential," said Robert A. Hahn, a commission attorney. "I can't comment."

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the governor's office is satisfied with the result.

"It does alleviate any concerns that may have been out there about potential conflict," Fawell said. "We volunteered this information solely as a precaution. The governor's office never took sides or formed any opinion."

Genn has said that he always made it clear that he was representing Diebold in his dealings with state officials. While he was registered to represent SAIC, he said, he has not received any money from the company for three years.

The issue of voting machine security has generated intense debate in Maryland. Just days after the state agreed to spend $55.6 million on Diebold touch-screen machines, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Rice universities reported that the underlying computer code was vulnerable to hackers.

In the aftermath of that report, Ehrlich asked for the SAIC study, which found more than 300 security concerns in both the technology and the way Maryland runs its elections. Still, state officials determined that the concerns could be addressed in time for the March presidential primary election, when the Diebold machines are to be in use statewide with the exception of Baltimore.

Since the SAIC study, pressure has mounted from citizens activist groups, which demand that the machines be outfitted to provide a printed and auditable paper trail in case verification is needed.

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