Assembly ethics panel rebukes senator over conflict of interest

General Assembly

March 17, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Members of the General Assembly's ethics committee admonished Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. yesterday not to sponsor legislation involving his employer's clients after disclosures revealed that he introduced half a dozen bills related to businesses his law firm represents.

Giannetti was rebuked during a regular session of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics yesterday at which Giannetti was told that ethics law prohibits lawmakers from sponsoring bills in which their employer is the only party affected or is a predominant member of the affected group.

Giannetti, a Prince George's County Democrat who sits on the ethics committee, disclosed that his firm represented several major telecommunications companies - including Sprint, Verizon and Nextel - and that he was sponsoring several bills related to telephone companies.

"Sponsoring is even worse than voting," said committee member Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat. "I wouldn't sponsor in the future anything having to do with the telecommunications industry."

Giannetti said he did not think there was a serious conflict because he has not received any fees from the telecommunications businesses he listed on his disclosure. He said he "over-disclosed" to show that he was not hiding anything.

The issue of a potential conflict related to Giannetti's legislation was raised in a Washington Post article detailing Giannetti's relationship with the telecommunications industry.

The most significant legislation that Giannetti introduced was related to cellular-phone towers. Giannetti wanted to restrict local boards' authority to regulate the towers if they were encased in flagpoles up to 150 feet tall.

The bill was killed in committee last week. Other Giannetti bills related to the telecommunications industry also are in jeopardy because it was revealed that his firm represents significant companies in the business.

"It probably was the kiss of death," said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat who is chairman of the ethics committee.

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