Stock causes possible conflict for 2 at MDE

December 18, 2005|By TOM PELTON | TOM PELTON,SUN REPORTER

Two officials at the Maryland Department of the Environment who hold stock in Constellation Energy played a role in lobbying against an air pollution bill opposed by the power company, raising questions about potential conflict.

Victoria L. Schade, the MDE's lobbyist, filed a financial disclosure form in May saying she owned Constellation stock in a mutual fund that would be worth more than $50,000 today. She is a former Constellation corporate contributions coordinator.

Mitchell J. McCalmon, deputy director of the MDE's waste management administration, reported in April that he owned Constellation stock that would be worth at least $15,000 today. He is a former lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Schade and McCalmon both played roles in the MDE's lobbying against the "four pollutants" bill, which would have forced Constellation to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for emission-control equipment.

State e-mails show that Schade worked directly with Constellation officials to develop strategy to try to kill the legislation. McCalmon met with the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, Del. Dereck E. Davis, a Prince George's Democrat, before the committee voted to kill the bill in March, state records show.

"That's a direct conflict of interest," said Del. James W. Hubbard, a Prince George's Democrat and a sponsor of the bill. "It wasn't in their financial interest to allow this bill to pass."

Schade and McCalmon declined to comment, but department officials said that neither had acted unethically.

Julie Oberg, spokeswoman for the MDE, said the State Ethics Commission said Schade's ownership of Constellation stock in a mutual fund was acceptable. She said that McCalmon had not acted unethically because his stock holdings, which she said are not in a 401(k) or mutual fund, are "modest" and he "met briefly on one occasion" with a legislator he had worked with when he was a legislative analyst for the committee.

Moreover, she said, the four pollutants bill would have affected all Maryland utilities, not just Constellation. The company owns about half of the large power plants in the state.

In a case in 2003, state records show, the ethics commission advised another MDE official who owned Constellation stock in a 401(k) that he should "be careful to avoid any appearance of a conflict by recusing [himself] from participating in any matter involving Constellation."

Bob Hahn, general counsel for the ethics commission, said he could not comment on the actions of any individual employees. In general, he said, state employees should avoid making decisions that affect companies in which they own stock unless the stock is in a mutual fund that the employee doesn't control.

Employees with 401(k) plans that consist mostly of a specific company's stock also should generally avoid making decisions about that company, Hahn said.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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