- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Statements regarding potential conflicts of interest that legislators file next year would be available via the Internet under legislation approved by the House and Senate on the last day of the session.
But under the measure that the Senate accepted after the House stripped it down, legislators’ financial disclosures would not be posted online.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has yet to sign the legislation into law.
Viewing legislators' financial disclosures still will require a trip to Annapolis and will subject the inquiring party to having their identity reported to the lawmaker — a provision that watchdog organizations have said is chilling to access.
Also, anyone seeking to look at legislators’ conflict-of-interest statements online will have to register, subjecting them to the same reporting of their identities that is done now for in-person viewing.
The House also cut provisions, added in the Senate, that would have required county officials to post online their business and financial statements, including information about business and financial interests of immediate family members.
Members of the House were concerned about identity theft and were persuaded by local government officials who said access to their information was easy enough, House Environmental Matters Chairwoman Maggie L . McIntosh said.
“We thought it would be best, if we did anything, to lead by example,” said McIntosh (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.
The bill, filed only in the Senate, came during a session that saw that body censure former Senate Budget & Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie (D-Dist. 25) for failing to report that he was paid almost $250,000 as a consultant for Shopper’s Food Warehouse during a period when he met with several key officials and supported action in the grocery chain’s interest.
Susan Wichmann, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said the bill improves accessibility to conflict-of-interest information for the public. But, she added, “We think the state needs to go a lot further to make this access free, open and accessible.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, said passage of the measure was a “huge step forward,” noting that to see any of the information now, most people have to take a day off from work and travel to Annapolis, as well as identify themselves so they can be reported to legislators who want to know who is inquiring.
“It’s narrower than what I introduced, but it moves us into the 21st century in terms of access,” Raskin said.
The House also added provisions that would create a work group to take a comprehensive look at what legislators should have to disclose publicly and how best to provide access.
The work group is to make recommendations to the legislature by Dec. 31.
Raskin said he hopes the study group will recommend other reforms that his proposal contained.
Last month, the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog group, ranked Maryland 40th among the states for transparency and gave it a D-minus grade, in part because of the lack of online access. The group’s report said Maryland has little oversight to keep elected officials from using public funds for personal reasons and to allow citizens access to public documents.