- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

Twenty-one Maryland General Assembly lawmakers had not delivered their financial-disclosure reports to the State Ethics Commission as of Thursday, more than six weeks after the deadline, The Washington Times has learned.

The 21 legislators 20 Democrats and one Republican have failed to provide reports despite receiving letters May 16 from the Ethics Commission's staff reminding them of their obligation.

The lawmakers' delinquency comes in the wake of intense debate over ethics and public disclosure in recent Assembly sessions and related court cases, including one that began last week in Baltimore.

At least 29 legislators, or more than 15 percent of the 188-member General Assembly, had not submitted their financial-disclosure forms by the April 30 deadline.

And "some are not new to being late," said John E. O'Donnell, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

What's more, many lawmakers who filed on time did not provide all the information required.

For example, omissions are evident in the filing of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. of Prince George's County, who last year joined House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. in calling for and winning some tightening of ethics laws.

Mr. Miller's current filing provided little information about reportable gifts he may have received or properties from which he receives rental income.

"See previous letter sent concerning events attended in my capacity as President of the Senate," reads a notation on his gift-disclosure form.

"Certain of houses previously listed on this form produced rental income," according to his property-interest form.

Neither the letter nor a list of the properties he rented was attached.

Yet "each year's [filing] is supposed to be a complete statement of that year, so that a person can go to the form and not have to go to other years," said Mr. O'Donnell.

Mr. Miller did not return calls seeking comment.

One delegate who has not filed his disclosure report, House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, Baltimore Democrat, did not return calls for comment.

Another state Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George's County Democrat and chairman of the county's Senate delegation said he put his disclosure report in the mail Tuesday, calling his tardiness "an oversight."

Delegate Rushern L. Baker III, Prince George's County Democrat and chairman of the county's House delegation, could not be reached directly, but left a voice-mail message saying his missing form also is an "oversight."

Delegate K. Bennett Bozman, Eastern Shore Democrat, said his form must have gotten lost in the mail and that after getting a notice he had to prepare a new "original" that he planned to mail Thursday. "It's the only time I've ever been late," Mr. Bozman said.

Delegate Joanne Benson, Prince George's County Democrat and deputy House majority leader, said she had nothing new to disclose, does not take gifts, tickets or meals from lobbyists, and would have filed new forms by now if anything had changed.

"I think that for those of us who don't have anything to disclose, we shouldn't have to file and I'm going to press for that next year," Mrs. Benson said, adding that she has been swamped with her work as a teacher specialist with Prince George's County Public Schools and speaking engagements since the session ended April 10.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Baltimore Democrat, delivered her disclosure report to the commission's offices Wednesday, her staff members said after The Times had inquired about it.

Ms. McIntosh, an eight-year veteran of the House and vice chairman of the committee that hears ethics legislation, said through her aide that she was just "absent-minded" and forgot.

Some public-watchdog groups rank Maryland's ethics laws among the most stringent in the nation, but Kathleen Skullney, the executive director of Common Cause/ Maryland, said too many public officials in the state continue to show they will adhere to the letter of the law, if not its intent.

"For some members, it's obviously a very bitter pill to swallow," Mrs. Skullney said.

The Ethics Commission sends letters requesting amendments when omissions or discrepancies are detected, Mr. O'Donnell said, adding that his staff is not large enough to examine all legislators' disclosures each year.

A full review is mandated every four years and this is a review year, he added.

A handful of lawmakers almost certainly erred when they failed to fill out a form for disclosing real property interests which, the instructions stress, includes leased as well as owned space.

As Mr. O'Donnell said, "They all live somewhere."

One of the few cases where someone would not need to file that form would be if the person were living on property he did not own, perhaps with relatives, rent-free.

Several lawmakers did not list bond and stock holdings in their disclosures. Lawmakers are supposed to disclose business ownership and interests, such as bonds and stocks including mutual funds. Based on their jobs and professions, many of them would be expected to have such investments.

The commission can and does fine legislators $2 a day, up to $250 for filing a late report, but the fees are not mandatory. The commission had difficulty getting the late-fee authority it has, Mr. O'Donnell noted.

If a legislator, a state official or employee required to file a financial disclosure does not file within about 30 days of a second notice mailed in June, the commission usually issues a reprimand at its next meeting, usually in July.

Financial disclosures are civil matters, under Maryland ethics laws. But such disclosures can become criminal matters because they are filed under penalty of perjury.

Delegate Tony E. Fulton, Baltimore Democrat, and Gerard Evans, the state's top-earning lobbyist, are on trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on 11 counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors aim to prove that the two used the legislative process to influence Mr. Evans' clients, prompting them to give $400,000 in fees to Mr. Evans.

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