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Baltimore elected officials file first financial disclosures under new rules

Baltimore elected officials filed updated financial disclosure forms under new rules designed to close what one councilman called a “Healthy Holly loophole" and promote transparency ahead of the 2020 election.

The City Council, mayor and comptroller must now abide by stricter disclosure rules, including a requirement that they not only name companies of which they or their spouse own at least 30%, but report the identity of anyone who pays that business $1,000 or more and is known to do work with the city.

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Democratic Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who sponsored the bill, says it "closes the loophole” in city law that allowed former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh to sell her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books without revealing that her customers included companies that did business with city government. Pugh pleaded guilty in November to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges involving those sales.

On her most recent city financial disclosure form, filed in April 2018, Pugh disclosed she owned the Healthy Holly LLC. At that time, she wasn’t required to list on that form who purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of her books, much less that some buyers had business before the city. For instance, Pugh sold books to Kaiser Permanente and voted in 2017 to approve a $48 million contract for the health organization to provide insurance to city employees. Another book buyer, Associated Black Charities, has a deal with the city to manage a multimillion-dollar fund that makes grants to groups that help children.

The legislation also ensures that all elected officials’ financial disclosure forms are made public ahead of the city’s primaries, held in April, by requiring that they be submitted at the end of January. In the past, forms were not due until April 30.

“This would be in the public’s interest regardless of whether we had seen the dramatic breach of public trust that’s occurred,” Dorsey said.

Democratic Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke’s 2020 financial disclosure form was one that showed the effect of the new rules. She had to provide more information than previously required about her husband’s company, which she owns a stake in. It owns and operates The Baltimorean Apartments on Charles Street. Clarke disclosed that none of the residents in the building are city lobbyists; most are students at Johns Hopkins or other local universities.

The financial disclosure forms continue to require officials to be transparent about their properties, earnings and gifts they’ve received.

Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young reported receiving $255 worth of whiskey from the Sagamore Group as a wedding anniversary gift, $424 worth of “Hamilton” tickets and several smaller gifts of Garrett Popcorn.

Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott reported receiving $100 worth of tickets from Baltimore Shakespeare Factory and a couple of gift baskets worth less than $50.

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The form of City Comptroller Joan Pratt, also a Democrat, had not appeared Friday evening on the city ethics board’s website, but Pratt said she would meet the midnight deadline.

In her most recent form, filed in April 2019, she disclosed a 22% stake in a Pigtown consignment shop called 2 Chic Boutique. According to Pugh’s 2018 disclosure, she owned 60% of the business, which has closed.

The new rules themselves need a fix, according to Ethics Board Director Avery Aisenstark. The bill mistakenly set a filing deadline of Jan. 30, rather than the end of the month. Once the ethics board realized the error, Aisenstark said his office extended the 2020 deadline to Friday. He said the city will correct the deadline to Jan. 31 for future years.

“We used our administrative prerogative to waive the fine for one day,” Aisenstark said. “We’ll correct it.”

The fine is $10 for each day a form is overdue.

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