- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Maryland House Democrats met in campaign-related, closed-door meetings in a General Assembly committee room over the past two weeks in an apparent violation of state ethics law.

"These meetings are clearly inappropriate. Meetings on electioneering, fund raising and direct mail cannot be considered the people's business, and should be held somewhere else," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, yesterday.

Republicans are considering filing an ethics complaint with the State Board of Elections over the meetings, said House Minority Whip James F. Ports Jr., Baltimore County Republican.

The intent of the law "is to discourage any systematic use of legislative facilities by members of the General Assembly for partisan political purposes," William G. Somerville, ethics counsel to the legislature, said in a letter to Mr. Ports.

"I believe it is problematic, however, when the purpose of a meeting relates to non-legislative aspects of an upcoming political campaign," Mr. Somerville wrote, adding that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat, agreed with him.

Mr. Taylor's name was among those of 105 Democratic delegates to whom the House Democratic Research Group addressed an e-mail announcement that fund-raising consultants Mike Fraioli and Greg Kalik would speak at a Feb. 26 meeting.

Like other weekly meetings, it was held in the Economic Matters Committee Room of the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis.

The room also was used for a March 5 meeting for which fliers were circulated advertising John Eldridge Jr. as the speaker for a discussion on campaign strategy and direct mail. Both notices urged delegates to bring personal or campaign checks for $100 to pay their dues.

The leader of the House Democratic Research Group, Delegate Carolyn Krysiak, said the group is "much too busy now to do anything now except [policy]," but that it would not be allowing campaign activities at its meetings during the rest of the legislative session "just to avoid this nonsense."

Asked whether she thought the group should be allowed to use committee rooms for campaign activities, Mrs. Krysiak responded: "I don't know that we ever gave it a thought."

But at least one legislative staffer did. That staffer thought the consultants were at the meetings to give their pitch to be hired, and declared the prospect "disgusting."

Asked whether the group would host more campaign-related events in a public room, Mrs. Krysiak, a Baltimore Democrat, said she couldn't say what would happen in the future or after the November elections.

Mrs. Krysiak and House Majority Leader Maggie L. McIntosh said the campaign consultants' portion of the program lasted about 15 minutes of an hour devoted mostly to issue and policy discussions.

"This is what's so frustrating as a minority party," Mr. Ports said. "They do it because they can."

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