Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) was admonished by the Maryland Senate on Friday, the first censure of a sitting state lawmaker in nearly 15 years, for failing to disclose that he had taken nearly $250,000 in consulting fees from a grocery store chain.
Maryland’s 47 senators voted unanimously that Currie had dishonored his title of senator and undermined the integrity of the General Assembly by advocating for the grocery chain’s stoplight requests, helping to facilitate the transfer of a liquor license and pushing development deals without making clear his financial motivations.
A jury in November acquitted Currie of federal bribery, corruption and extortion charges stemming from the five-year arrangement. Currie’s defense said his work for Shoppers Food Warehouse amounted to a legitimate consulting arrangement, albeit one that he had failed to disclose under state ethics guidelines.
In deciding against expelling Currie, the son of a sharecropper who rose to become the longtime head of the Senate’s powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, his Senate colleagues essentially agreed. Currie had declared the income on his taxes, several noted, and his misdeeds were incongruous with his decades of work on behalf of the state’s poor.
“I will not stand here and make excuses. I’m a person with flaws, and I do have weaknesses,” Currie said, his voice cracking as he apologized on the Senate floor before the vote.
Currie, 74, said he hoped the vote would allow him and his family to begin to move beyond the ordeal, which started with an FBI raid on his home in 2008. “I never intended to do anything that would bring dishonor to you, my wife or me.”
Currie himself joined in voting for the resolution.
The unanimous vote accepted a lengthy report by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which was charged with investigating the charges by federal prosecutors against Currie.
The report recommended Currie be stripped of his Senate and Democratic Party leadership roles and that he be permitted to retain his seat on the budget committee.
But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said only that he would “consider” the recommendations and might still appoint Currie to a conference committee this session.
Currie, who has served in the General Assembly since 1987, has been a fixture for more than a decade on the conference committee appointed annually to hammer out differences between the budgets passed by the Senate and the House of Delegates.
“Certainly if an issue came up on a conference committee involving an area of his expertise, he’d be one of the first persons I would name,” Miller said.
Yet Miller rebuffed suggestions that the censure therefore amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist. That’s “absolute nonsense,” he said.
“The man stood here and apologized to the body. He was publicly censured, and the sanctions are imposed. I’m not certain what else anyone could ask for,” Miller said. “Not a single member of this floor dissented. Not a single member said that wasn’t severe enough.”
Implicit in the Senate’s censure was an acknowledgment that Currie’s actions were only a shade worse than the conflicts of interest routinely confronted by doctors, lawyers and others in Maryland’s part-time legislature.
During his trial, more than one state official testified that the favors sought by Currie were hardly unusual requests for a state legislator to make, though not on behalf of a paid client. Lawmakers also routinely vote on matters than can affect their professions and, therefore, potentially their income.
Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), chairman of the ethics committee, said the Currie incident should force the legislature to tighten its financial disclosure rules.
Sitting lawmakers, he said, should meet with the General Assembly’s ethics adviser annually to review their most recent tax filings to make sure all potential conflicts are disclosed.
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report