Maryland lawmakers should be careful about seeking campaign donations in coming days -- traditionally among their busier fundraising periods -- while the special session on medical malpractice insurance remains unresolved, the legislature's ethics counsel has warned.
State law prohibits legislators from raising money during the annual 90-day session of the General Assembly. Although the law does not apply to special sessions, William G. Somerville, the ethics counsel, wrote a memo recently advising members "to avoid even the appearance of impropriety" and to not seek donations during the session from "individuals . . . specifically affected by the legislation under consideration."
Del. John Hurson is cautious but said he will still hold an event.
After two marathon days last week, lawmakers passed a bill to provide doctors relief from steep increases in medical malpractice insurance premiums, an issue that has pitted doctors, trial lawyers and insurance companies against one another.
Though most legislators have left Annapolis, they technically left their session open until Jan. 11, the day before the regular session starts.
That day lawmakers probably will try to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s promised veto of the malpractice bill, as well as other legislation he rejected in last year's regular session.
Those bills include at least two that are watched closely by business groups: one that boosts support for the state university system through an increase in corporate taxes and another that would require higher pay for workers on state contracts.
Given the pending issues -- and the wide array of interest groups involved -- any fundraising in coming days is questionable, said James Browning, director of Common Cause Maryland.
"Absolutely, it violates the spirit of the ban," Browning said. "You can't be collecting checks at night from the same people who'll be lobbying you during the day."
Many legislators traditionally hold one final fundraiser between New Year's Day and the start of their 90-day session, when the ban takes effect, Browning said.
For donors, "it's a way to get the contribution and their policy issues into the same conversation," he said.
Some lawmakers with events scheduled in coming days said they are treading carefully.
Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery), chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, said that he sent invitations to a fundraiser Monday before he knew Ehrlich (R) would announce a special session.
"But in light of the special session, I am being very careful who I call now," Hurson said. "I don't want to talk to people [about donations] who do have things up on the 11th, which frankly is a lot of people."
Tickets to Hurson's fundraiser at an Annapolis tavern are $100 for "guests" and $500 for "sponsors," according to the Maryland Democratic Party's Web site.