Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. says Wednesday should herald the “Accountability Session” in Annapolis.
At a news conference Tuesday on the eve of the start of Maryland’s 90-day General Assembly session, the Republican governor sought to highlight recent malfeasance by Democratic lawmakers, including two delegates who resigned ahead of federal criminal indictments.
Hogan said he will introduce the “Ethics and Accountability in Government Act,” with the goal of “making sure that [lawmakers] are deserving of the trust that people have placed in them, ensuring that public officials are actually serving the people and not simply themselves or special interests.”
The bill would increase the fines for bribery by public officials and those who offer bribes to them, would require legislators and state employees convicted of “abusing public trust” to forfeit their public pensions, and would prohibit misuse of confidential information acquired during state service by former officials or employees.
The bill would also allow the Ethics Commission to assess civil penalties against public officials and state employees for ethics violations, similar to the commission’s power over lobbyists, Hogan said.
The full text of the proposal was not immediately available Tuesday.
The governor said he didn’t see any reason why Democratic legislative leaders wouldn’t join him in pressing for the reforms.
Hogan said a dozen state and local officials have been charged with fraud and bribery in recent months.
He specifically referenced three recent cases: the federal indictments for former Baltimore mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D), and former Dels. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore City) and Tawanna P. Gaines (D-Prince George’s). Hogan noted that it is the third consecutive legislative session that has started with news of indictments of public officials.
“It has become clear in recent months and recent weeks that sadly a pervasive culture of corruption continues to exist. And it is clear that even tougher and more stringent laws are needed,” Hogan said.
The governor also said the accountability theme should extend to his other priorities as well: addressing violent crime in Baltimore, reforming public schools and making sure investments in schools meet their intended goals.
In 2017, lawmakers gave bipartisan approval to a bill that prohibited lawmakers from lobbying for one year after leaving office and strengthened conflict-of-interest laws.
House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said he hoped legislators could come together on a bipartisan ethics package again this year.
House Democrats are planning an ethics package of their own, including bills that expand the authority of the Office of the State Prosecutor, ban family members from serving as campaign treasurers, and require candidates that consistently violate campaign finance deadlines to proactively provide bank statements to the State Board of Elections.
Hogan’s news conference came a day after an article in Washington Monthly suggested that Hogan was benefiting financially from his term in office. Building on a 2018 Maryland Matters article, Washington Monthly said that Hogan has gotten richer since he became governor in 2015 and has directed transportation funding to areas where he has real estate holdings.
Hogan said the narrative is continuing to be pushed by “Democratic operatives.” He said he has complied with State Ethics Commission disclosures since taking office and that his business interests have been examined in previous reporting as well.
“Nobody has been as transparent,” Hogan asserted. “No elected official has disclosed as much as I have.”
Asked whether he has become wealthier since becoming governor, Hogan responded: “I owned things before I came governor. Some of them have gone up or down in value.”
Hogan’s response is not satisfying some lawmakers.
Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) said he would like the governor to provide the legislature with all the paperwork he provided to the State Ethics Commission on his real estate holdings when he became governor, along with correspondence between him, the ethics commission, his firm, and other real estate partners.
“We need to be asking a lot harder questions of the governor,” Stewart said.
The freshman lawmaker conceded that he had not approached the legislature’s presiding officers about investigating Hogan’s finances, but said several of his colleagues are interested in at least collecting facts and information.
“A lot of us are looking at this through fresh eyes,” Stewart said.
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.