The joint ethics committee of the Maryland General Assembly, finding "a question of substantial conflict of interests" in a taxpayer-financed questionnaire distributed by Del. Robin Ficker (R-Montgomery), has voted to ask the House of Delegates to appoint a special committee to investigate its findings.

If House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin appoints an investigative committee, as recommended in the 7-to-0 vote of the ethics committee Monday night, the special panel could recommend anything from no action at all to censure.

The committee's vote was only the second time that action has been recommended against a legislator under the four-year-old Maryland Ethics Law. Last year, following a committee recommendation, the House voted to "note its disapproval" of actions by Del. Frank Santangelo (D-Prince George's) involving his lobbying for a big band company in which he later bought stock.

The Ficker investigation arose because of a solicitation of donations he included on a questionnaire he mailed to constituents last spring. Ficker paid for the mailing with about $6,000 from an interim account each delegate gets annually.

Ficker contends that the $417 he collected as a result of the questionnaire was placed in a newsletter account. Other delegates said it is not uncommon to request donations on questionnaires to finance future questionnaires and newsletters, but they said normally the donation request clearly is labeled as a request for newsletter funds only.

"The facts are all on the public record and anybody is welcome to see them," Ficker said today. "I see no reason for any further investigation. The facts have all been agreed upon."

Nonetheless, Ficker began trying to line up support for his defense this afternoon. "I've already spoken to some people who will defend me on this," he said.

Ficker denounced the investigation as partisan, but sources said the two Republican members of the committee voted with five Democrats in favor of asking for the investigative committee.

The resolution is expected to come to the floor Thursday.