The Washington Post

Md. ethics panel says delegate should not have tried to silence football player

Brendon Ayanbadejo #51 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after the Ravens won 34-31 against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

A Maryland legislative ethics committee has found that a delegate who used his official stationary to try to silence a Baltimore Ravens player who supports same-sex marriage committed a “particularly egregious abuse of public resources.”

But the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics determined that because Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County) has already apologized for the episode, there is no need for disciplinary action.

Burns, a longtime opponent of gay nuptials, wrote last year to Steve Bisciotti, owner of the Ravens, asking him to “cease and desist” the advocacy of linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who spoke out for legislation and a subsequent ballot measure to allow same-sex marriage in Maryland.

In a letter to Burns dated Jan. 30, the committee said that under ethics rules, delegates should not use their General Assembly letterhead to advocate for or against ballot measures.

“Your use of official General Assembly letterhead to pressure the employer of a citizen of Maryland to suppress the citizen’s right of free speech was a particularly egregious abuse of public resources,” the committee told Burns in the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post.

In an interview Monday night, Burns said he regretted using General Assembly stationery.

“It was never my intention to stop free speech, never, never, never,” Burns said. “But I still feel that professional football is not the place to be pushing gay rights.”

The delegate’s letter did not have its intended effect. With the additional attention, Ayanbadejo appeared on national television and at a fundraiser with Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for the same-sex marriage campaign.

The ethics committee could have recommended a punishment ranging up to expulsion. But in the letter to Burns, it said further proceedings were not necessary “because you have recognized the error of your violation and have publicly apologized.”

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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