Ethical challenges

Our view : Currie probe suggests some just don't get it

July 07, 2008

As government forms go, the 17-page financial disclosure required of members of the General Assembly is unambiguous. Lawmakers must list not only outside employment and investments but also gifts worth $20 or more. The ethics requirements of counties and other local government are typically just as crystal clear: Elected officials must not only report income but also recuse themselves from matters in which they have a direct financial stake.

So while it's unwise to rush to judgment in the continuing federal investigation into state Sen. Ulysses Currie, the information that's come to light so far strongly suggests that the longtime Prince George's County lawmaker did not meet this minimum standard.

What now appears central to the probe is the government-supported revitalization of West Baltimore's Mondawmin Mall. Mr. Currie, chairman of the influential Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, is alleged to have been actively promoting the project to benefit Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, for which he may have been working as a consultant.

The exact nature of Mr. Currie's involvement with the company isn't entirely clear. Shoppers has acknowledged that he has been on the payroll, but the senator's financial disclosure reveals nothing.

Any suggestion that Mr. Currie, a member of the legislature for more than two decades, was unaware of state ethics requirements would be laughable. So is any notion that the requirement is particularly burdensome or onerous. Lawmakers can't act as paid lobbyists.

There may even be a link between Mr. Currie's dilemma and the similar travails of Mayor Sheila Dixon, whose involvement with developer Ronald H. Lipscomb is under the state prosecutor's review. Either Maryland is too small or ethical standards are in danger of losing their currency.

The latter possibility merits this reminder to public officeholders: Disclose, disclose, disclose. And when a matter involving an employer, a family member or your significant other comes your way: Withdraw, withdraw, withdraw. It's really not so difficult.

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