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Government & Politics Justice

Jealous Releases Ethics Plan But Lobbyist and GOP Hit Back Hard

Democratic gubernatorial nominee shaking hands at a crab feast this summer. File photo

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Benjamin T. Jealous’ roll-out of an ethics reform plan slammed into a wall on Wednesday with the release of an audio recording that appeared to contradict the candidate’s newly-minted pledge.

In his plan, Jealous promises not to engage with State House lobbyists who have run afoul of the law.

“Unlike [Gov.] Larry Hogan (R), who has met and raised money with convicted lobbyists, I won’t take meetings with any registered lobbyist with any criminal history related to fraud, corruption or any other lobbying-related crime,” Jealous told reporters outside Baltimore City Hall.

He then added, “I am honestly at a loss why Larry Hogan has asked people like [lobbyists] Gerry Evans and Bruce Beranno [sic] to raise money for him, has met with them, has even been on their yachts.”

Even before Jealous uttered those words, however, Evans released a voice message from Jealous, in which the candidate is heard soliciting the lobbyist’s “support.”

“Gerry, hey, Ben Jealous calling,” the recording begins. “I hope you’re well.”

After a brief description of his plan to run a “positive” and grass-roots-oriented campaign against Hogan, Jealous then said, “We could really use your support in getting it done.”

Asked about the contradiction by reporters, Jealous said his solicitation of Evans was a mistake.

“That call was made in error,” he said. “We have a vetting process. If any check had ever come in from him, we would have returned it.”

Jealous then attempted to draw a contrast with Hogan, whose record on health insurance and public safety issues he has criticized.

“Gov. Hogan has not returned the money from the National Rifle Association,” he said. “He has not returned money from the pharmaceutical lobby. And he certainly has not returned monies from the lobbyists in question.”

Evans and Bruce C. Bereano both served time in prison following convictions related to their lobbying work, but have returned to Annapolis to become two of the capital city’s most high-profile and top-billing advocates.

Bereano was convicted in 1994 for overbilling clients and using the excess funds to make campaign contributions to lawmakers in an attempt to curry favor with them. Evans was convicted in 2000 after overstating the threat of legislation that would be harmful to some of his clients, in an attempt to gin up more business.

In an interview, Evans said he was “amazed” that Jealous would solicit funds from him one day, then pledge never to meet with anyone convicted of a lobbying-related offense.

“This one is a major catastrophe for him,” he said. I’m just dumbfounded by it.”

Evans, who is personally close to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), has been a regular donor to certain Democratic candidates and causes, though he is supporting Hogan for governor. Bereano, an early supporter of Hogan’s 2014 campaign, remains a registered Democrat. Hogan appointed his son, Bryon Bereano, to a judgeship on the Prince George’s County District Court in 2016, after the younger Bereano was recommended by a judicial screening commission.

In his ethics proposal, Jealous pledged to:

— prohibit campaign contributions from corporations and state contractors;

— refuse contributions from anyone he appoints to his cabinet, a board or a commission; and

— require future candidates for statewide office and president to release at least three years of tax returns.

Jealous and other speakers at his news conference slammed Hogan for refusing to put the assets of his firm, the Hogan Companies, into a blind trust.

Hogan has shed day-to-day operations of the firm but continues to own it, an arrangement the administration and his campaign have defended and which has been approved by the State Ethics Commission.

Among the critics was state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), a former gubernatorial candidate who has frequently clashed with Hogan.

“Documents show.. that the governor has grown wealthier as a result of being the governor,” he said at Wednesday’s news conference, which was live-streamed on The Daily Record website. “What we don’t know is whether the decisions of this administration have helped forward his own personal interests.”

The Hogan campaign said that, with the release of the Evans voicemail, “Jealous’ hypocrisy is laid bare for all Marylanders to hear.”

“As this newly uncovered voicemail shows, Ben Jealous has been repeatedly violating his own ethics proposal,” said communications director Scott Sloofman. “It proves he cannot be trusted to run an ethical administration.”

Jealous also pledged that no member of his administration would run for political office while holding a state post.

He accused Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. (R) of “raking in campaign cash” from individuals connected to insurance companies to bolster his bid for Baltimore County executive.

In a statement, Redmer spokeswoman Hannah Marr called those allegations “debunked and phony.”

“Al Redmer has made it explicitly clear that he has not and will not accept contributions from individuals or businesses regulated by the Maryland Insurance Administration, and has actually forgone tens of thousands of dollars in potential contributions from this self-imposed rule,” she said.

This week the Maryland Democratic Party released a list of donations to the Redmer campaign totaling more than $57,000 that it said came from people with ties to the industry.

Evans, meantime, accused Jealous of hypocrisy, saying his pledge not to meet with people once convicted of a crime ran counter to his push for a ban on hiring practices that ask job applicants about their past.

“Being head of the NAACP and fighting as he did to knock out ‘check the box’ and all that, and [stressing] redemption and [the rights of] returning citizens, how does this jibe with that?” he said.

“We’re OK with returning citizens except if they’re lobbyists? Nobody thought this thing through.”

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Jealous Releases Ethics Plan But Lobbyist and GOP Hit Back Hard