AS THE MULTI-CHANNELED miracle of cable television wins its way into the hearts of more and more viewers coast-to-coast, many state and local politicians can see dollar signs ontheir screens -- as lobbyists for firms in hot competition for franchise. The all-too-common practice is to hire and/or cut in politicians with chunks of stock as a way to give cable firms prestige and influence when franchise decisions are made.
In Maryland, however, two Republican state legislators have introduced legislation that would put an end to many of these political cable connections. Del. Luiz Simmons and Sen. Howard A. Denis would amend the state ethics codeto prohibit members of the General Assembly from lobbying on behalf of cable franchises in which they have any interests (unless they are employed full-time as cable representatives). The sponsors' main argument is that "the intentional use of the prestige of office by a public official for the private gain of himself or others is a clear and present abuseof public office . . . ."
It does, but is it necessary towrite it all into the code? If the cable practice is bad, what other associations should be listed specifically in a code? Diclosure, it seems to us, is the important requirement. If voters and legislators know for whom the member is fronting, the ballot box can take care of things quite effectively. For example, State Sens. Laurence Levitan and Victor L. Crawford are tied to cable interests. Let voters assess their participation with and for the cable companies when state or local legislation is involved.
If the assembly members decide to set standards for themselves in this regard, so be it. But by doing business openly, stating their interests and rescuing themselves if necessary, the legislators can avoid the trouble that this bill seeks to eliminate.