Bill would put ethics disclosures online

A special committee on ethics reform set up by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will propose legislation that would put the financial disclosure forms of legislators and top state officials online next year and eliminate a requirement that filers be told the names of people who examine those statements.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the special committee, said the legislation has the bipartisan backing of all members of the panel. He said he expects the bill to be introduced today.

Currently, an individual who wants to look at disclosure forms -- which are public documents -- must go to the State Ethics Commission office in Annapolis and fill out a form giving name and address. Under current law, the lawmaker of official whose disclosure is examined has the right to be notified of the identity of the person making the inquiry. Open-government advocates contend the need to travel to Annapolis is burdensome and that the notification provision has a chilling effect on inquiries.

Raskin called the current arrangement an "obsolete system."

"If the information is public, it is going to be online," the Montgomery County Democrat said. "We have nothing to hide and we should be No. 1 in ethics transparency in America."

Raskin said the legislation would take effect in two stages. The disclosures of senators, delegates, statewide elected officials, Cabinet secretaries and agencies heads would be posted by July 1, 2013. Statements by all other officials covered by the financial disclosure law would go online by July 1, 2015. Counties would be exempt because of a reluctance to impose added expenses, Raskin said.

The bill is the first work product of the committee, which Miller established in the aftermath of the federal trial of Sen. Ulysses S. Currie on bribery and extortion charges late last year. While the Prince George's County Democrat was acquitted, the trial brought to light Currie's failure to file required forms disclosing payments from a grocery chain on whose behalf the senator interceded with state offficials.

Raskin said the committee, which has until March 1 to report its findings, "will continue to brainstorm other things." He said the legislation will go in as a Senate bill for now but added that there is "a lot of interest in the House" in a possible companion bill.


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