ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 21 -- Maryland Secretary of Licensing and Regulation William A. Fogle Jr., under fire for his personal relationship with a woman who represents businesses he regulates, has told the governor, legislators and his aides that he will no longer deal personally with lobbyists.
Fogle said in a memo that he was creating an "ethical wall" between himself and lobbyists so there is "no actual conflict, or appearance of one, between my personal life and my public duties." Fogle, a longtime associate of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, has been enmeshed in controversy for much of his year in the cabinet because of his relationship with lobbyist Carolyn T. Burridge.
Earlier this month, the Baltimore Sun detailed instances in which Burridge's relationship with Fogle appeared to have given her clients unusual access to top state officials and to have resulted in favored treatment for those clients with his department.
The Sun also reported that written recommendations in November from one of Fogle's assistants on how to deal with the Burridge problem -- described as a "a ticking time bomb" -- were ignored. The recommendations, prepared at Fogle's request, urged that he adopt a strictly neutral position on issues related to Burridge's clients, and that he inform department commissioners and directors of his position.
Schaefer said yesterday that although he does not believe that Fogle has done anything wrong, he thinks Fogle is right to distance himself from lobbyists. "If I thought he was showing favoritism toward Carolyn, he'd be gone," he said.
Legislative leaders, however, said they think there is at least the appearance of a serious conflict of interest that should be corrected.
"Both the secretary and the lobbyist have been warned several times in the past," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Clinton). "I think the governor should clearly take some form of action." Miller and House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell (D-Kent) said they believe that Fogle's relationship with Burridge has undermined his credibility and his department's effectiveness.
Burridge's clients last year included a large credit union that Fogle formerly directed and currently regulates. Burridge and Fogle pressed unsuccessfully for legislation that would have netted the credit union an estimated $600,000.
Burridge would not comment directly yesterday on whether her clients have been helped by her relationship with Fogle, which she would characterize only as a "personal friendship." She said, however, that although many of her clients are regulated by the department, she is not doing any business with the department "at the moment." The last time she did, she said, was in summer, when an investment banking firm she represents presented a plan to speed payouts to savings and loan depositors whose funds were frozen in the 1985 thrift crisis. The payout plan was presented to the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, an agency under Fogle's purview.
In May, Fogel was forced to cancel a $5,000 no-bid contract his department had given Burridge to lead a weekend retreat for department officials she regularly lobbies. He was ordered to act by Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who was acting as governor while Schaefer was abroad.
Fogle was criticized for helping Burridge get a $24,000 contract as a lobbyist for Maryland community colleges, whose representatives met with Schaefer and Steinberg. Fogle has been accused of associating too closely with other lobbyists. He was forced to cancel a charity golf tournament sponsored by his department after reports that the insurance commissioner's office was asking firms it regulated for contributions.
The memo Fogle issued this week is the second one he has sent about lobbyists. The first, sent in May, advised department employees to keep a proper distance from lobbyists. In the more recent memo, Fogle said he has asked his deputy, former delegate Joseph Owens, to "handle all future lobbying contacts on the department's behalf."
Fogle said any suggestion that a business is getting favorable treatment because he knows the firm's lobbyist should be reported immediately to Owens. Fogle said he was going "as far as humanly possible to separate my private and public lives," and that the "ethical wall" he has created should "assure the total absence of a conflict of interest and, more important, the appearance of one."