Maryland's Acting Gov. Blair Lee III yesterday unveiled a revised state ethics code that puts greater restrictions on acceptance of gifts by state employes and officials than the draft he prepared in April.
Effective Saturday, the code for the first time will apply to the highest elected officials in the executive branch - from the governor on down - and to local state's attorneys.
Those officials, long with all state employes, are prohibited under the new code from soliciting gifts from anyone, a blanket restriction not found in earlier versions.
The code came into question last year during the political corruption trial of suspended Gov. Marvin Mandel. Mandel argued then that the governor was not covered by the code and that he was not at fault for accepting thousands of dollars in gifts from friends who did business with the state.
Lee's revised code eliminiates that loophole as well as forbidding any employe or executive branch official from accepting any gift from anyone who does business with a Maryland state agency.
The only gifts these Maryland state employes may accept are those received from relatives from fellow employes or from their offices in recognition of merit or for retirement. The code also allows them to accept promotional gadgets, gifts such as tickets to sports or charity events if the tickets are given as a courtesy to the office and food and drink at restaurants.
Special clauses were included in the code to emphasize that no employe of a regulatory agency can accept anything from someone regulated by the agency and no employe can accept a gift from someone negotiating a contract with the employe's agency.
"It's certainly far better than any other version. It's fine, a good strong code that tightens the regulation. They've really come a long way," said Lee Peariman, a lobbyist for the Maryland branch of Common Cause, a citizen's organization and one of the strongest critics of previous codes.
In his first draft, presented in late April, Lee allowed state employes to accept and solicit gifts worth $50 or less, a provision Pearlman criticized.
During this year's General Assembly session, Lee failed to convince the legislature to pass a code to cover all elected state officials. It was a deep disappointment, Lee said, because he considered the ethics bill one of his most important offerings to the session.
Lee then chose to issue his executive order which does not require legislative approval. It also does not cover legislators.