Bill Targets Curb on Pr. George's Donations

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By Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A state senator from Prince George's has proposed repealing a law prohibiting members of the Prince George's County Council, including his daughter, from accepting campaign contributions from developers with pending land-use applications.

Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D) filed a bill late Monday that would remove the law, in place since 1993, that forbids contributions to council members in Prince George's from anyone involved in development -- including land-use attorneys, engineers, real estate brokers and others -- while they have a development action pending.

The law also bans a council member from participating in discussions of any development project that involves a person who has contributed to his or her campaign within the previous three years.

Exum's daughter, Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant), has been on the County Council since 2002. She will be forced from that office by term limits in 2010, but she is widely believed to be weighing a run for another office, including perhaps Prince George's county executive. She was reelected to her second and final term in 2006 but has accepted additional campaign contributions since then.

The law has done little to reduce the amount of developer contributions to candidates for County Council, which is responsible for all zoning and planning decisions in Prince George's. That's because of a provision in the law that allows council candidates to form political slates with candidates for other offices, such as the state Senate and House of Delegates. Those slates are allowed to accept development contributions, and council members have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through joint accounts.

Sen. Exum said yesterday that his bill was designed to eliminate the "unnecessary impediment" of forming slate committees, a requirement not imposed on council members in other counties or on Prince George's residents seeking election to the state legislature.

"Why do they have to go get a state candidate to be on a slate with them, and then they still get the contribution?" he said. "All it's doing is removing that impediment."

He said the proposal was not designed to help his daughter, noting that she cannot run again for the council and has not announced plans to seek another office.

"It'll apply to anyone," he said. "It doesn't necessarily apply to my daughter."

Exum's bill would not lift the prohibition of developer contributions to the county executive, which are also now banned while applications are pending. The bill also would not change a requirement that developers file an affidavit with project proposals in which they disclose past contributions to the council.

The proposal immediately raised eyebrows in Annapolis, in part because it comes during a wide-ranging federal probe of development in the county. In September, the FBI raided three county offices and the homes of a developer, a former County Council member and a top fire official as part of the investigation.

"I'm just shocked to see this bill come forward," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whose district includes part of Prince George's. "I don't want to speculate as to who or what it's supposed to benefit, but it doesn't smack of good government."


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