ANNAPOLIS — Instead of requiring individuals to close a campaign finance account before serving on certain boards in Frederick County, now appointees will be prohibited from raising or spending money from it.
What seemed to be a straightforward amendment to a local ethics bill at the start of the 2019 General Assembly session has morphed into something a bit different from what its sponsor, Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll), planned, but it’s still a step in the right direction, he said.
“I presented the bill to close the account — straight up close the account — to be on the boards, and that’s what I wanted,” Pippy said, before an amended version of his bill passed the House of Delegates, 134-0.
In 2018, the state approved an ethics bill for Frederick County, which required members of its Board of Zoning Appeals, Ethics Commission, Planning Commission and liquor board to step down from those boards within 48 hours of opening a campaign finance account. However, the law did not address what to do when a person had an existing account.
Pippy resigned from his role as chairman of the liquor board in August 2018, after conflicting legal opinions on his existing campaign account were written. One of his first bills filed this session was to prevent the same confusion in the future.
Pippy’s original bill said that a member “shall close the ... campaign finance entity before the first day of the members term.”
There was concern among the members of the House Ways and Means Committee, which reviewed the bill, that requiring the closing of a campaign finance account could set a broader precedent in the state, Pippy said.
The chairman of the Ways and Means subcommittee on Election Law, Del. Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s), declined to comment on whether the committee had concerns about the statewide precedent the bill or why the committee preferred keeping the accounts open, in an email from his legislative aide, Marty McGowan.
The committee agreed, however, to modify the bill so that members cannot:
- Solicit, receive, deposit or use contributions with on the board.
- Make expenditures, except to pay a filing fee or civil penalty.
The bill was also modified so that all outstanding obligations of the account holder had to be paid before beginning to serve on the board.
The original bill Pippy submitted had the unanimous support of the Frederick County delegation and County Executive Jan Gardner (D).
Gardner said by email on Monday that she continues to support the bill, as it makes the accounts effectively “defunct.” However, she would have preferred the clear language calling for the closing the accounts.
“In my opinion, it would be cleaner and a better ethics bill if the account was closed because it will be harder to ensure compliance if an account remains open,” Gardner said.
Any open campaign accounts of members of the county boards will be treated similar to how state delegates and senators campaign accounts are while the General Assembly is in session, Pippy said. It’s a step forward for addressing some ambiguity in the ethics law, but not what he would have preferred.
The bill has crossed over into the state Senate, where an identical copy of the bill was filed by Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) and has languished without a decision. The bill would need to pass both chambers to become law.
“The most difficult part of Annapolis is once you drop off a bill, it becomes that committee’s bill,” Pippy said. “... The only power you have is to withdraw it.”