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Md. strengthens disclosure of political activity by contractors

Businesses that win contracts with local and state governments in Maryland are facing new requirements to disclose their political donations — and state election officials are using the information to build a first-of-its-kind database of contractors.

Companies that do business with state and county governments have been required to report political donations for years, but a law approved by the General Assembly in 2013 strengthens the disclosure regulations.

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After technical changes to the law were passed this year, the effort is now getting underway in earnest.

To begin with, all contractors that do more than $200,000 in business will now have to register with the Maryland State Board of Elections, even if they do not give to a political campaign. Failure to file will carry a penalty up to $500. And state election officials are now putting the records online.

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"The changes in the laws bring a new level of enforcement and greater disclosure regarding companies receiving government contracts," said Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division at the state elections agency. "The reports are no longer just accessible in an office in Annapolis but can be viewed by anyone at any time."

Government watchdogs have long scrutinized the relationship between campaign donations and contract awards — and the new tool will aid in that analysis. But the online tool will also provide a one-stop database of every major contractor in Maryland, whether the company is doing business the state itself, or a single county in Western Maryland.

"Being able to access this reporting online is the difference between these reports being used or not," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, which pressed for the changes. "Making sure that all contractors are included and accountable is very significant."

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