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Tim Ferguson's ethical lapse Carroll County: His plea of ignorance about accepting contributions in session won't wash.


EVEN THOUGH Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson has held public office for more than a year, he seems woefully uninformed about basic rules of conduct as a state legislator. His latest mishap involving collecting campaign contributions during the General Assembly session can't be dismissed as mere ignorance of procedures, as he would like.

The rule in Annapolis is clear: No fund-raisers are to be held and no tickets for future fund-raisers are to be sold while the legislature is in session. Concerned with the appearance of propriety, legislative leaders instituted that prohibition in 1988. They wanted to eliminate the perception that legislators could be bought during the session.

Other legislators -- including other freshmen -- have not found the rule hard to follow. They have found that they do quiet well collecting on the 250 other days available for soliciting campaign contributions.

Presumably, Mr. Ferguson, whose district straddles the Carroll-Frederick line, has a copy of the "ethics guide" distributed to all members of the legislature. Guidelines dealing with the soliciting and collecting of contributions are covered on page 10. If Mr. Ferguson was too preoccupied to read the text cover to cover, he could have perused the half-page memo on the same matter that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. jointly issued on Jan. 10, 1995.

Taking Mr. Ferguson at his word that the solicitations were sent out in late December, the fact remains that his campaign organization would have more than likely received these contributions during the legislative session that began in mid-January. If it is not acceptable to ask for contributions during the session, common sense would dictate that it is even less acceptable to receive them. Nonetheless, Mr. Ferguson accepted $828 during the 1995 session and so far taken in $340 this session.

Instead of waiting for instructions from the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics on what to do, Mr. Ferguson should show some initiative and return all the contributions he collected. For a legislator who professes to "walk the straight and narrow," keeping the money leaves the impression that Mr. Ferguson says one thing and does another.

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