Ex-Governor Mandel, again

May 16, 2006

Who knew that University System of Maryland regents have had restrictions on lobbying the General Assembly? Apparently not former governor and current Regent Marvin Mandel - or so we have been asked to believe.

Found by a regents' committee last week to have violated an ethics policy by acting as a lobbyist during the last three legislative sessions, Mr. Mandel's excuse is that he was never told about that particular rule when he joined the board in 2003. Of course he also acknowledges that even though he was informed of the policy before the 2006 legislative session, he still went ahead and acted as an unregistered lobbyist for a client.

Now Mr. Mandel says he's sorry and "will be more sensitive" to such ethics rules, adding: "We all understand that we, as regents, must conduct ourselves beyond reproach."

Mr. Mandel is absolutely right, and for that reason we think he should resign from the USM board. Serving as a regent is an honor and a public responsibility. Mr. Mandel has breached that trust. Either he knew of the ethics rule and broke it anyway or he wasn't aware and wrongly assumed that there is nothing unethical about a regent lobbying - a very troubling mindset.

We feel much the same way about Regents Chairman David H. Nevins, a Constellation Energy Group executive who this year facilitated private meetings between his employer and state officials - which, incredibly, the regents found did not violate their ethics policy. In a similar vein, we should also note that the new law barring political activities by regents - which prompted the governor's chief fundraiser, Regent Richard E. Hug, to resign - makes for a better board.

The University System of Maryland has a $3.6 billion budget, about a quarter of which comes from state general funds. Its 11 colleges and universities serving 130,000 students are absolutely critical to Maryland's economic future, and they are major economic generators in their own right. Is it too much to ask for regents who are scrupulous about avoiding any semblance of using their stature for their own or their clients' interests? Of course not.

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