For years, the Maryland General Assembly has thrown up bureaucratic hurdles for residents interested in learning about their lawmakers' potential conflicts of interest.
Lawmakers are required to list their sources of income and business holdings in annual forms. But seeing those documents required a trek to the State Ethics Commission in Annapolis. And anyone who wanted to view conflict-of-interest forms had to provide their name and home address to the ethics panel, which then forwarded that information to the officials' whose filings are being pulled.
Now there is another way to get the information, without leaving your computer or having your name sent to the person you are checking on.
As part of its investigation of conflicts of interest in state houses nationwide, the Center for Public Integrity has uploaded the most recent disclosure forms for every state lawmaker in the country, including in Maryland and Virginia (where forms already were easily accessible online).
The organization, working with the Associated Press, uncovered numerous examples of lawmakers who stood to benefit from bills they sponsored or votes they cast.
Many state legislatures are modeled to be bodies of citizens who take breaks from their jobs to craft legislation for part of the year. States have a patchwork of policies, often determined by the legislatures themselves, that determine what are unacceptable conflicts of interest and how lawmakers should handle them.
Maryland tightened its state ethics laws this year after reprimanding Del. Dan Morhaim (D-Baltimore County) for trying to influence medical marijuana policy while serving as a paid consultant to a marijuana company.
Morhaim's side gig wasn't clear from his conflict-of-interest forms, but was revealed by The Washington Post after reporters obtained other public records detailing the overlap between his dual roles.
The legislative panel that investigated Morhaim's conduct found that he didn't violate disclosure rules, and Morhaim says he did nothing wrong.
A new law now requires lawmakers to report similar financial arrangements they have with companies vying for state licenses.