February 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm
By Meg Tully
The staff of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) and the Maryland Municipal League (MML), which represent local governments at the State House, would have to file as registered lobbyists and follow lobbying laws under a bill being considered in the House of Delegates.
Del. Tom Hucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, sponsored the legislation to close what he considers a lobbying loophole for MACo and MML, which both oppose the bill.
“They’re among the most powerful interest groups in Annapolis, and that’s exactly why it would serve the public interest and strengthen public confidence in our ethics law and the General Assembly itself if they played by the same set of rules as any other lobbyist in Annapolis,” Hucker told the House Environmental Matters Committee at a hearing on Tuesday.
The loophole dates back to the 1970s, Hucker said, and an ethics commission in 2000 recommend
ed that the exemption be eliminated. Since no action was taken, Hucker decided to introduce his bill.
“It’s unfair to all the other businesses and nonprofits who do register and have to obey the same set of rules, both in the registration and the gift restriction,” Hucker said.
Municipalities see themselves as partners in governance
MML executive director Scott Hancock testified that the organization does take individual lawmakers out to lunch and dinner, a move that would not be allowed under the new law. The law would require lobbyist registration and disclosure of lobbying spending, as well as restrict gifts. But Hancock argued that MML is unlike private-sector lobbyists because towns and cities are the state’s partner in gov
“We’re different because all of the policies of the organization, and all the direction that we take as staff, comes directly from our elected officials,” Hancock said.
He added that as an association, the organization is nonprofit and nonpartisan and does not participate politically by forming political action committees or contributing to political campaigns.
Delegates want bill broadened to lobbyists for state agencies
Several delegates on Environmental Matters indicated that they wanted the bill to be broadened to include lobbyists on behalf of state government. Del. Herbert McMillan, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said he didn’t like the perception that it targeted two narrow groups.
“Let’s face it, MACO has had issues many times with things that you want to do. And now you say that you want them to report fiscally on their lobbying and follow all the rules,” McMillan told Hucker at the hearing. “I could support that if the state had to do the same thing because now I’m not just targeting, and my perception is that this targets a group.”
Hucker said that there was a difference between the private organizations representing local governments and state employees who represent agencies and have to follow ethics standards. But he said he would consider such an amendment because he believes state spending on lobbying should be transparent.
Hucker’s bill would apply only to professional lobbying staff working on behalf of MACO and MML, not elected officials representing the interests of counties and towns, he said. Hucker’s bill is supported by Common Cause, Progressive Maryland and the Maryland Retailers Association. [CLARIFICATION: Lobbyist Jeffrie Zellmer said he was speaking for himself, not the retailers he usually represents.]
“I think all of us value the transparency and sunshine that comes with that law, and I think we would benefit to apply it as broadly as possible,” Hucker said.