Last year, after the expulsion of a state senator and the resignation of a delegate following allegations of ethical improprieties, the leadership of Maryland's General Assembly did what it frequently does when faced with a vexing, controversial situation: It formed a commission.
Headed by U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), a former Maryland House speaker, this one was to recommend changes to the laws and rules governing the ethical conduct of legislators. Among the recommendations, after months of meetings, were that all lawmakers' financial disclosures be made available on the Internet.
But that was going too far for many lawmakers during the last General Assembly session, who argued that they didn't want their personal financial information in cyberspace.
The General Assembly stripped the provision out of a proposal that otherwise tightened up some ethical restrictions.
But now, officials at Common Cause Maryland, the public interest group, have decided that the information should be available to Web surfers and essentially have told the legislature, if you don't do it, we will.
On July 5, Kathleen Skullney, Common Cause's executive director, began photocopying the financial disclosures of all 188 legislators, and over the coming weeks, Common Cause volunteers will key-punch the information into a computer. By fall, they hope to have it all available at www.commoncause.org -- Common Cause's national Web site.
Essentially, they are putting on the Web information that is available publicly to anyone who wants to travel to the offices of the State Ethics Commission in Towson, north of Baltimore. There, citizens have to sign in, and those legislators who request it will be notified by letter any time someone looks at their file.
That could intimidate some people and make them reluctant to look at the public record, Skullney said. She said that no one will know who is looking at the information once it's posted on the Common Cause Web site -- and that residents will be saved the trip to Towson, too.
Skullney said Common Cause members were unhappy when the legislature stripped out the provision that would have posted lawmakers' financial information on the Internet. Members were even more unhappy when the legislators also voted to allow themselves to receive notification when residents examine another disclosure statement lawmakers are required to make -- their conflict of interest statements, on file in Annapolis.
After those legislative votes, Skullney said, many Common Cause members asked why they couldn't just post the information themselves on the Web to make it more accessible. And so the organization's board decided to undertake the project.
Should the effort prove successful with the financial disclosures, Skullney said, Common Cause would expand its project to put the conflict of interest statements on the Web. She said she hopes eventually to expand the plans and begin posting the financial disclosure statements of county executives.
"It makes a public document truly public," she said.
Republicans to Flock to Annapolis
Lots of Republicans are coming to Annapolis -- and it's not because the GOP recently rebounded electorally.
Instead, the GOP's Northeast Republican Leadership Conference has chosen Maryland's capital for its meeting Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. Republican leaders from Maine to Maryland as well as from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are invited.
"With the 2000 elections just around the corner, we expect this conference to be very well attended. It will be an excellent opportunity for key Republicans from throughout the region to network and prepare for victory in 2000," said state GOP Chairman Richard D. Bennett.
Presidential candidates and other elected officials and GOP leaders have been invited to address the conference.
MIDAS Elects Officers
One of Maryland's leading economic development organizations has elected new leaders.
David J. Ryan, director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Inc., has been elected president of MIDAS, the Maryland Economic Development Association. Joining him as vice president is John Kirby, director of the Allegany County Department of Economic Development. Continuing in their offices are Secretary Sharon W. Disquie, manager of industrial and economic development at CSX Corp., and Treasurer Richard J. Morgan, chief executive of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
MIDAS is a 38-year-old organization of 300 economic development officials from throughout the state who work on legislation, international trade, tourism and finance.
Delegation Chairman Reelected
Del. Kumar Barve (D) has been reelected chairman of Montgomery County's House delegation to the General Assembly. In that role, Barve is responsible for pushing through legislation important to Maryland's largest jurisdiction and blocking bills county lawmakers oppose.
Barve, now in his third term, has run the 27-member delegation for the last five years. During that time, Montgomery has partially shed its reputation as an unruly bunch of lawmakers afraid to fight for parochial interests, becoming a more cohesive and powerful bloc as a result. He also is chairman of the science and high-technology subcommittee of the House Economic Matters Committee.
Barve's reelection was unanimous, and the term runs for one year. Del. Carol S. Petzold (D), now in her fourth term, will serve as vice chairman. She has held that post for five years, in addition to serving on the House Judiciary Committee.
Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.