A plea for disclosure

Lawmakers urged to reveal links to nonprofit groups

General Assembly 2009

March 25, 2009|By Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter | Laura Smitherman and Gadi Dechter,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com and gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

The General Assembly's ethics adviser has counseled state lawmakers that they should disclose when they or an immediate family member serve on the boards of organizations seeking bond funding through legislation.

In a memo written late Monday in response to an article in The Baltimore Sun, William G. Somerville told lawmakers they should file a form that discloses the unpaid positions and asserts their ability to "act fairly, objectively and in the public interest" with regard to the bills. Somerville said the joint legislative ethics committee directed him to send the reminder to all 188 lawmakers.

The Sun reported that lawmakers have sought millions of dollars in recent years for nonprofits where they or their spouses serve on boards - and rarely disclose their association. The funding appeals are made through the General Assembly's version of pork-barrel spending, under which capital projects are financed with debt issued through state bonds and repaid by taxpayers.

Del. Brian K. McHale, a Baltimore Democrat and co-chair of the joint ethics committee, said the panel decided to issue a reminder on the advice that Somerville said he has been giving lawmakers for years.

For Sen. Norman R. Stone, his co-chair, the reminder hit home. The Baltimore County Democrat's wife is on the advisory commission of a charity that is the beneficiary of bond legislation Stone has sponsored. "I'm going to have to file something," he said.

Like other lawmakers in similar situations, Stone sounded an ambivalent note about the need for such disclosure. "I don't see any harm in disclosing, I just never thought you had to," he said.

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