Maryland requiring financial disclosure for inaugural balls

Associated Press

For the first time in Maryland, private donations from people and corporations that fund inaugural festivities for the governor will be made public in financial disclosure reports required by law.

While the measure was passed in 2015 and signed into law by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan , his inauguration for a second term in January will be the first one since the law went on the books. Maryland law previously was silent on the matter of disclosing how much corporations were spending to pick up the tabs of inaugural balls.

Damon Effingham, executive director of the government-watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, described the Maryland law as "a good step forward" in increasing transparency. Still, he questioned whether "lavish inauguration events (is) a culture we want to continue," and said he hoped that the state one day will enact "capped limits" on inauguration spending.

The state of Washington is among the few states that have taken steps to reduce the use of corporate money in inaugural celebrations by designating a non-partisan committee of citizen volunteers to plan inaugural balls, with all costs covered by the price of admission.

The Maryland law prohibits an inaugural committee from making a political contribution or using the money for any purpose other than financing the inaugural celebrations. In 1983, then-Gov. Harry Hughes was criticized for using a $125-a-plate inaugural ball to help pay off his $86,000 campaign debt.

If a Maryland governor uses private money for inaugural festivities, the donations will have to be received by an inaugural committee. The committee is required to file reports with the state elections board, which will make them public online. The first report will be due March 7.

A committee for Hogan's inaugural events was created three days after he became the first Republican governor to win re-election in Maryland since 1954. After official inaugural events in Annapolis on Jan. 16, Hogan is holding a $150-per-ticket inaugural gala at MGM National Harbor casino. Further details on inaugural events are expected to be released in January, said Amelia Chasse, Hogan's spokeswoman.

Asked about the disclosure law in an interview, Hogan said while he doesn't think there is anything nefarious about the donations and no profit involved, he supports the added transparency.

"People donate. We should disclose," Hogan said. "People should know. If there's any money left over, which there usually isn't much, it's all donated to charity."

Disclosure laws for the inaugural festivities of governors vary from state to state, and critics have pointed to lax rules in many as another way for corporations and the wealthy to curry favor with the state's highest office, without the transparency required by usual campaign finance laws. In states where donors are disclosed, whether because of state reporting requirements or voluntary releases by the governor, corporations have been shown to play a major role.

President Donald Trump 's inaugural committee, which raised $107 million for his 2017 inauguration, has drawn scrutiny. Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in New York are examining whether foreign interests made secret, illegal contributions to Trump's inaugural committee.

In Maryland, inaugural festivities have varied in extravagance over the years.

Hogan held a gala four years ago at the Baltimore Convention Center with tickets costing $100 a person. The program for the event listed seven "Gold" and 27 "Silver" sponsors, but amounts of donations were not made public. Hogan also held a "People's Celebration" on Maryland's Eastern Shore that was less formal and cost $25. A free event was held the next day at Howard County Community College.

Hogan's predecessor, Martin O'Malley, received donations as high as $25,000 for his first inaugural gala in 2007, which also was held at the convention center. O'Malley held a scaled-back event for his second inauguration in 2011, citing tough times in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

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