Del. Robin Ficker (R-Montgomery) is being investigated for possible violations of the state's Public Ethics Law arising from his spending almost $6,000 in public funds on a questionnaire in which he solicited donations.
Ficker confirmed today that the joint Senate-House Ethics Committee has held a hearing on the matter. He denied any wrongdoing and said he expects to be cleared when the committee announces the results of the hearing, probably next week.
"I did use my interim fund to pay for the questionnaire," Ficker said. "But if I were trying to solicit funds illegally, why would I send the questionnaire to all my constituents, including members of the opposition party's central committee?"
The end of a 61-question mailing Ficker sent out last June said, "(Strictly voluntary) Enclosed is a tax-deductible contribution of ---------- to Legislator Robin Ficker."
Ficker said he collected $417 from the effort, all of which went into an account for future newsletter/questionnaires. Of the $6,000 spent on the questionnaire, about $3,000 was spent on the questionnaire itself, the rest on mailing expenses.
Sen. Julian L. Lapides (D-Baltimore), chairman of the ethics committee, which is composed of eight Democrats and two Republicans, asked the attorney general for an opinion on the matter, and last December, Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Israel replied that by soliciting funds without making it clear what they were to be used for, Ficker "may have been in violation of the prohibition in the ethics law against soliciting gifts."
Earlier, Stan Gildenhorn, head of the Democratic Central Committee in Montgomery County, filed a complaint with the special prosecutor's office, alleging that Ficker was seeking campaign donations without a proper authority line on the document. But the special prosecutor, who did not know public funds had been used, found that Ficker's name and mailing address on the questionnaire served as an authority line if the solicitation were for campaign funds.
If the committee finds Ficker in violation, it would bring the case to the floor of the House of Delegates, where Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin would appoint an investigative committee which could do anything from clearing Ficker to recommending censure.
Each delegate has access to an interim fund of $9,000 annually. The only requirement is that at least $2,800 be spent on staff. Ficker sent out another questionnaire this year, also with a request for funds, but he used his own money this time. "I just did that because I didn't have enough in my interim fund to do another questionnaire," he said.
Only two matters have reached the hearing stage of the committee since the new state ethics law was enacted four years ago. In 1979, Del. Francis White (D-Prince George's) was cleared on charges that he did not live in the district from which he was elected. Last year, the house voted to "note its disapproval" of ethics violations by Del. Francis J. Santangelo (D-Prince George's), who was found guilty of failing to disclose his financial interest in a big-band promotion company for which he had lobbied prior to buying into the company.