REAL Ethics and Transparency Reform

Center Maryland political columnist, Josh Kurtz, penned a navel gazing piece about the recent flurry of corruption we’ve seen in Maryland politics.

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But no one in any position of authority is saying we’ve got a problem here, let alone offering solutions.

Of course, Johnson’s 87-month sentence and Schurick’s conviction are just scenes in a long-running play one might be tempted to call “That Corrupt Season.”

Sandwiched between those seminal events were state Sen. Uly Currie’s corruption trial last month — he was acquitted but still faces a probe by a legislative ethics committee that could lead to his ouster from the General Assembly — the 366-day prison sentence imposed on Leslie Johnson, Jack Johnson’s wife, for her role in the Prince George’s scandal; the trial of state Del. Tiffany Alston, who is accused of using campaign funds for her wedding and other personal activities, scheduled to begin the same week the 2012 legislative session does; and the February trial of Schurick’s alleged co-conspirator, political operative Julius Henson.

And taking an even longer view, you can draw a straight — ok, a crooked — line, all the way from Spiro Agnew to Marvin Mandel, from the Mitchell brothers to Larry Young, from Gerry Curran to Gerry Evans, from Tommie Broadwater to Tommy Bromwell, until the line finds its way to Tiffany Alston and all who will come after her…

How do you legislate against this kind of behavior? And again, where is the outrage? Where is Gov. Martin O’Malley? Or Senate President Mike Miller, now a quarter century into the job? Or House Speaker Mike Busch, entering his 10th year in that post? Why does no one squawk when Congressman Steny Hoyer publicly hails Uly Currie like a long lost brother just days after his acquittal and declares “the system works”?

I doubt the liberal Kurtz would go for getting government out of so much of the private sphere—which is the petri dish that grows the very culture of corruption he decries.

Sorry Josh, but you can’t be a cheerleader for “bold progressive Democratic governance,” (and the concomitant government encroachment of the private sphere that progressive policy and politics demands. ) then turn around and decry the corruption, corporatism, and crony capitalism it breeds.

Don’t look to O’Malley, Miller, or Busch for outrage either. Taking on corruption would mean bucking the special interests that put them in power.

Kurtz asked the question “How do you legislate against this kind of behavior?” I don’t think you can legislate against human nature. As Jonah Goldberg says we’re all cut from the crooked timber of humanity, and bad actors are going to do what they want no matter what the law says—state ethics laws didn’t stop Ulysses Currie.

However, we can make it easier for the public to discover and shed the disinfectant of sunlight on public corruption and cronyism.

The Maryland Young Republicans (Full disclosure: Brian Griffiths is MDYR President, and I am VP of Communications) put together a seven-point package of ethics and transparency reform proposals.

1. Real-time disclosures: Require legislators, appointees, and all relevant officials to file financial disclosures for the current legislative period. Currently the forms are not due until a year after the previous legislative session.

2. Electronic Databases: Electronic access to financial disclosure forms for the public. Create an online database with downloadable PDFs of financial disclosure forms.

3. Notifications: Eliminate notification of filer when someone looks up their disclosure form.

4. Conflicts of Interest: Alter campaign finance laws to prohibit committees from using vendor companies that are owned wholly or in part by other legislators. Or if another legislator is employed by that vendor.

5. Lobbying Disclosures: Enhance lobbying disclosure requirements, require:

a. Bills/regulations they are lobbying for or against

b. Clients for which they are lobbying and their position on bills/regulations;

c. Legislators they lobbied;

d. How much spent per client;

e. Submit log of dates and times of contacts with legislators, state officials;

6. Sunset Period: Prohibit legislators, legislative staff, and executive branch staff from lobbying on state issues for a period of five years after their employment with the state ends.

7. Budget Databases: Require the Department of Budget and Management to:

a. Create searchable database of any entity receiving state loans in excess of $10,000. (SB 389/HB 638 from 2011 session).

b. Create a searchable database (dating back to FY 2008) any state payments exceeding $1,000 to entities designated 501c3 or 501c4 by the Internal Revenue Service.

I call Point 4 the McIntosh Rule.

We encourage any state legislator to drop any and or all of our proposals as legislation in the upcoming legislative session.

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