Legislators may no longer use public money to put out newsletters or questionnaires, the Legislative Policy Committee of the Maryland General Assembly decided today.
The new policy, which goes into effect July 1, came as the result of an ethics investigation regarding a questionnaire sent out by Del. RobinFicker (R-Montgomery) in the spring of 1981.
As the last question on the four-page form, Ficker asked for tax-deductible donations. Since Ficker had used money from his interim account--$9,000 allotted annually to each legislator--for the mailing, his request for private contributions came before the ethics committee. Although an investigative committee that was formed following the ethics report cleared Ficker of any wrongdoing, it recommended a study of whether public money should be used for newsletters.
Responding to that, Sen. Edward P. Thomas (R-Frederick) proposed a ban on using the interim fund for what are, essentially, public relations documents. "If people want to put them out, let them pay for it out of their own pocket," Thomas said.
Only one legislator, Del. Helen Koss (D-Montgomery), argued against the motion. "This will punish the wrong people," she argued. "It isn't going to stop people from typing 20 letters each day and sending them to constituents. Those people who are ethical about this will be hurt. Those who have perverted it in the past will continue to do so."
Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Baltimore) ended the argument.
"The term 'interim' means funds that are to be used during the interim between the annual 90-day sessions ," McGuirk said. "I don't see anything that justifies sending out a newsletter during the session using interim funds."
Even Koss, the one dissenter on a voice vote, conceded that, "Anything we do is political."