Sun Editorial Attacks Local Financial Disclosure Legislation

A March 12 Baltimore Sun editorial attacks legislation (HB 1177 / SB 948) supported by both MACo and MML regarding financial disclosure requirements by local government officials.  The bill, patterned after other sections of the financial disclosure law, would authorize a local government or school board to require an elected official or school board member to disclose certain holdings in business interests only if the business entity does business with or is regulated by the local government or school board.  MACo fully outlines the rationale for the bill in its testimony.  However, the Sun dismisses MACo’s concerns: 

Last year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring local governments to adopt ethics rules for themselves and for school boards that are at least as strict as the state requirements. That meant disclosure of any interest an official owns in a corporation, partnership, limited liability partnership or limited liability company. The proposed legislation — which is sponsored by Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, and has the backing of the Maryland Association of Counties — would limit the disclosure only to those companies that do business with or are regulated by the local government in question.

In written testimony on the matter, MACO called the requirements in current law “onerous” and a potential deterrent to those who would want to serve in local government or on a school board. Furthermore, the association argued that the generally more limited scope of power these officials wield does not warrant such a high level of disclosure.

That’s nonsense. The new requirements are only now being implemented, so the notion that they would prevent qualified candidates from seeking to serve is entirely speculative. And even if local officials may deal with issues of a different scope than state lawmakers, they still act on budgets that reach, at a minimum, into the millions of taxpayer dollars — and frequently into the billions. Furthermore, since local government bodies are much smaller than the General Assembly, individual members tend to wield much greater influence over the outcome of any decision.

 MACo disagrees with the Sun’s assessment.  Local governments do operate on a different scope from State government officials and MACo believes it is reasonable to set financial disclosure reporting requirements commensurate with the general power level and geographic scope of a governmental unit.  In the case of a county or municipality, MACo believes that should include disclosure of holdings in business entities that do business with or are regulated by the county or municipality.  Safeguards remain as conflict of interest disclosure requirements, which are not affected by the bill, still require the disclosure of business holdings or interests where a potential conflict exists.

HB 1177 has been heard by the House Environmental Matters Committee and SB 948 has been heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

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