Loophole allows day at the races; Detail: Legislators can't accept sports tickets from lobbyists, but a slight distinction let lawmakers enjoy a free day at the Maryland Million.


FOR A DOZEN lawmakers, the Maryland Million races last month at Laurel Park was a lovely day out featuring free admission, an open bar and a buffet with crab cakes and tenderloin.

Wasn't this kind of freebie banned by the ethics law that went into effect Oct. 1?

Not exactly.

The new law prohibits legislators from accepting sports tickets from lobbyists or entities that have lobbyists.

The owners would fall into that latter category, so one might assume that tickets to horse races at Laurel would now be banned.

But in this case, it wasn't Laurel offering free admission. Rather, it was Maryland Million Ltd., a nonprofit group affiliated with the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

Under the law, the horse breeders association, which routinely lobbies in Annapolis, is also banned from giving legislators tickets to any sports event it sponsors.

But because the Maryland Million group has a different board, it is considered separate from the horse breeders association.

With that distinction in mind, the two leaders of the General Assembly's ethics committee gave a thumbs-up to legislators to accept the day of free entertainment.

Brothers don't quite see eye to eye on gay rights

Ed Flanagan, the Democratic state auditor of Vermont, is running for the U.S. Senate next year hoping to become the first openly gay senator. Gay rights are an important part of his campaign platform.

"I will work relentlessly to win Senate passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to give gay and lesbian Americans the same protections that others can take for granted," Flanagan wrote in a fund-raising letter sent to gay activists.

But he hasn't been all that persuasive on the issue within the Flanagan family.

Ed's brother, Robert L. Flanagan of Howard County, is the Republican whip in the Maryland House of Delegates and a leading conservative voice in the General Assembly. This year, he voted against a bill to ban employment and housing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Delegate Flanagan said he tried unsuccessfully to have the bill amended in a House committee to narrow its focus to the most blatant forms of discrimination. When that failed, he said he could not support the bill, which passed the House, 80-56, but died in a Senate committee.

He said that while he opposed the bill, his brother's orientation gives him a better understanding of the issue.

"I think it makes me understand that somebody doesn't choose to be gay," he said. Ed Flanagan said he can't get too upset by his brother's stance on the gay rights issue. His brother, he said, has been "aggressively supportive" of him personally and is open-minded on civil rights issues.

"He just sometimes gets confused with Republican doctrine, that's all," said the Vermont Flanagan.

Some GOP activists let down by party's fine print job

Officials with the Maryland Republican Party are excited by the possibility that a Republican might win office in heavily Democratic Baltimore today. A couple of the party's candidates are given a decent shot of winning seats on the City Council.

But some GOP activists are puzzled by what they see as a meager effort by the state party on behalf of its candidates in the city.

In particular, they point to a postcard that went out last week from the state GOP listing the party's candidates for mayor, comptroller and council.

The mailing, which was sent to Republican voters in Baltimore, lists the names of the candidates in smallish type, but features the signature of state party Chairman Richard D. Bennett in letters three times as big.

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