Head of regents board is target of complaint

Two panels review allegations of improper lobbying by Nevins

March 09, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

The Maryland State Ethics Commission and a subcommittee of the state university system's Board of Regents are reviewing allegations that regents Chairman David H. Nevins violated state ethics rules by lobbying the legislature on behalf of his employer, Constellation Energy.

The ethics commission received a complaint last week about Nevins, which by law triggers a preliminary investigation by its staff. Commission officials are prohibited from confirming whether they are investigating conduct by a public official.

Nevins said yesterday that a regents subcommittee is reviewing his actions to see if they comply with a 1999 law prohibiting regents from engaging in lobbying.

The complaint to the ethics commission, obtained by The Sun, cites news reports that Nevins introduced top executives from Constellation, which is Baltimore Gas and Electric's parent company, and from the Florida company that wants to buy it to legislative leaders, and that he sat in on meetings where the proposed merger was discussed. The merger is subject to approval by state regulators and is under scrutiny by the legislature.

Nevins said he believes he did nothing wrong in attending the Constellation meetings.

"I don't believe that my ... activities in any way, shape or form violated the state ethics rules, and if the ethics commission chooses to take a look at that, naturally I'll be fully cooperative," Nevins said.

D. Bruce Poole, a former ethics commission member and legislator who helped write Maryland's ethics laws, said the commission frequently gets complaints from private citizens and many of them are quickly dismissed after an initial investigation. But he said Nevins' activities while on the Board of Regents are the sort of thing the commission typically looks at more closely.

Nevins, 51, is well-connected in Maryland political circles. He was a major fundraiser and supporter of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who appointed him to the Maryland Public Television Board and then to the Board of Regents. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reappointed Nevins as a regent in 2004, and he became chairman of the board last year.

According to election records, Nevins has made campaign contributions to a variety of politicians, including Ehrlich; Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan; Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller; House Speaker Michael E. Busch; Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens; and Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

According to the records, he has donated $14,250 since the last election - $4,250 more than the legal limit.

The records show that his firm is also over the $10,000 limit with $11,025 in contributions since the last election. Constellation Energy exceeded the limit by $2,000 in the previous election cycle, according to the records.

Nevins said he is careful to stay within the limits and believes the state elections board records are in error. He said he believes that some of the donations should be attributed to his ex-wife instead of him.

The ethics complaint followed news reports of the meetings Nevins attended with top legislative leaders. A 1999 law prohibits regents from lobbying members of the legislature.

"Although Mr. Nevins denied that he was engaged in lobbying, three members of the legislature - House Speaker Michael Busch, Senate President Mike Miller and Senator Thomas Middleton - reported activity that plainly constitutes lobbying," the complaint says. "The General Assembly has worked hard both to keep officials in Maryland's higher education community free from partisan political pressure and to assure, in turn, that these public servants will not exploit their offices for private gain."

Nevins has said he doesn't think the meetings constituted lobbying and that he was present to make introductions, not to discuss the details of any potential legislation.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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