STATE ETHICS CASE
Complaint Targets Attorney for Ehrlich
Friday, May 26, 2006
A nonpartisan group of residents that is fighting efforts to build a liquid natural gas terminal east of Baltimore has filed a formal complaint with the state ethics commission against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s personal attorney.
The governor's attorney, David Hamilton, represents the firm that plans to build the natural gas facility at an abandoned shipyard, and Hamilton has said he and a lobbyist joined his client in meetings with two state senators about getting the state's financial assistance.
"Despite Mr. Hamilton's presence at meetings with officials of the State of Maryland, activities undertaken for the purpose of seeking to influence legislative and executive action, it is our understanding that he has not registered as a lobbyist," wrote Bart S. Fisher, attorney for the LNG Opposition Team, in his letter to the ethics commission.
Hamilton did not return calls yesterday but told The Washington Post last week that he was under no obligation to register as a lobbyist because he was working only as his clients' attorney. He said he has "taken great care to avoid the appearance of impropriety and to abide by all rules."
A friend of the governor's for more than 20 years, Hamilton has worked mainly behind the scenes on behalf of several corporate clients who have done business with the state.
Because he was not registered as a lobbyist, he has never had to disclose his clients' identity and has been able to solicit campaign contributions from them on behalf of Ehrlich (R).
His role in assisting Barletta Willis LLC, the firm that wants to build the natural gas terminal, is of concern to the residents east of Baltimore, who believe politically connected people are exerting influence on behalf of the firm.
In his letter to the ethics commission, Fisher contends that Hamilton's meetings with the two senators helped secure a state grant of $150,000 in the fiscal 2007 budget that will be spent on dredging at the Sparrows Point Shipyard site, a move that would help advance Barletta's efforts to build there.
Hamilton said he attended the meetings with lobbyist Bill Pitcher. "Bill addressed budgetary requests, and I explained Barletta's status in conjunction with an EPA consent decree and its relationship to the State's Brownfields program," which provides money to restore industrial sites, he wrote.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said that no matter Hamilton's role, residents should not be concerned about where Ehrlich stands.
"The governor stated months ago that he's opposed to a [liquid natural gas] facility," said spokesman Henry Fawell. "The governor's position is stated and public. He made it very clear the first time he was asked about it, months ago."
The issue could have broader political consequences: The neighborhoods affected by the facility are also a key battleground in this fall's election, in which Ehrlich is seeking a second term.
At a meeting in Harford County last night, Fisher told about 30 residents that he was concerned that Hamilton was helping Barletta without any of the usual disclosure requirements. "We need to have an open and transparent process," he said.
Despite Ehrlich's opposition, the group's leader, Sharon Beazley, said she was worried that Hamilton's influence will be felt when the state is asked to take the steps needed to prepare the site for such a facility.