After ‘Healthy Holly’ scandal, Baltimore City Council gets to work on new financial disclosure rules

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A Baltimore City Council committee has amended a bill introduced to require city officials to disclose some clients of businesses they own. The bill was introduced in response to the federal investigation of former Mayor Catherine Pugh's "Healthy Holly" books.

Less than a week after Baltimore’s former mayor pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion, a City Council committee pushed forward with legislation that would impose stricter financial disclosure rules on elected officials.

But after several city agencies testified the bill went too far, the council amended it to raise the threshold for what lawmakers would be required to report.


Councilman Ryan Dorsey’s bill calls for elected officials — including the mayor, the City Council president, the comptroller and council members — to disclose the clients of any company in which they own a 30% stake.

Originally, Dorsey wanted city leaders to report the name of anyone who paid the business $20 or more. Doing so, he said, "closes the loophole” in city financial disclosure law that allowed then-Mayor Catherine Pugh to sell her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books without revealing that her customers included companies with business before the city.


But that $20 threshold, according to the city law department, would make the requirement “very onerous to comply with.” The Ethics Board called it “unduly burdensome.” The Greater Baltimore Committee also submitted testimony taking objection to the low threshold.

The council’s judiciary committee voted Tuesday to raise the disclosure requirement to $5,000. All councilmembers are Democrats.

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Dorsey acknowledged the $20 limit would be “cumbersome" — especially if someone ran a small retail business — and said the committee agreed on a “fair number.”

“You have to find some workable ground,” he said.

Officials already have to disclose companies they own, and any gifts worth $20 or more from entities with business with the city.

Pugh disclosed that she owned her children’s book company, Healthy Holly LLC, but not that she was selling tens of thousands of books for hundreds of thousands of dollars to entities that operate within the city and do business with it, including the University of Maryland Medical System, Kaiser Permanente and Associated Black Charities.

These companies made payments ranging from $3,680 and $100,000 for the sloppily-written books, thousands of which Pugh admitted in court to never having printed or distributed.

The “Healthy Holly” scandal loomed over the judiciary committee hearing, with residents testifying that it was a stain on Baltimore and that actions must be taken to deter any similar conduct in the future.


“The need for heightened transparency in Baltimore City is more urgent now than ever,” said Tierra Bradford, of Common Cause Maryland. “If the city wants to rebuild public trust in local government, transparency is going to be vital.”