CHECK THE huddles in Annapolis when the legislature is in session, and the lobbyists are hard at their craft of shaping Maryland's laws. They are more than 500 strong, their combined billings last year totaling about $21 million for some 1,800 clients. Laws governing them are riddled with loopholes, chief among them an absence of effective disclosure requirements. But increased public pressure for better oversight is taking hold. This year lawmakers agreed to new monitoring of their own activities, and for the 2000 session, the focus is turning to the lobbyists.
Gov. Glendening, state Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper Taylor have been pressing lawmakers for stronger codes of conduct. The commission they chose to produce recommendations for this year's bill was headed by U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, a former speaker of the Maryland House who oversaw a rewrite of the ethics laws 18 years earlier.
Now the governor and legislative leaders have tapped another former member of the General Assembly -- Don Robertson of Chevy Chase, a 20-year member of the House, majority leader from 1979 to 1989 and speaker pro tem for two years. Mr. Robertson, a leader of past efforts to clarify and strengthen standards of conduct for government officials, is to examine ethics issues involving lobbyists. The new commission will determine if lobbyists should be subject to a code of conduct and whether additional public disclosure requirements should be enacted to cover their relationships with officials of the executive branch as well as with the legislature.
To vote for stronger ethics laws is not -- as some lawmakers complained during the last round -- to convict the membership as a whole of misconduct. Guidelines, standards of conduct, disclosure requirements and procedures for deciding whether a legislator's business affairs and legislative work constitute conflicts of interest should improve the quality of government as well as constituents' opinions of how public business is conducted.