Ethics Talk Heats Up in Annapolis

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) speaking at the Annapolis summit Wednesday morning. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Legislative leaders sent mixed signals Wednesday on whether to probe Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s relationship with his development firm, with one chamber expressing an interest in learning more about the governor’s dealings and the other taking a more wait-and-see approach.

During a Q&A with talk show host Marc Steiner in Annapolis, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said she was aware of recent media reports that have raised questions about the governor’s real estate firm, a company that bears his name.

The report, in Washington Monthly, which expanded on Maryland Matters reporting from 2018, suggested that the Maryland Department of Transportation has knowingly spent tax dollars on projects near HOGAN Company properties.

“I’m aware of the article as it relates to transportation,” Jones told Steiner during the annual “Annapolis Summit,” sponsored by The Daily Record.

“We do have a committee that will be looking at that and may have a briefing as it relates to that, and how it would pertain to what, as a legislature, we could do,” she added.  “I’m most certain that they will have that briefing.”

Hours later, as news organizations began reporting on Jones’ comments, the speaker’s chief of staff, Alexandra M. Hughes, released a clarifying statement intended to suggest that the legislature’s review of Maryland’s transportation spending will be forward-looking, not a look back at past spending.

“Speaker Jones looks forward to reviewing all transportation projects as a part of the regular budget process during the 2020 legislative session,” Hughes wrote.

“Maryland’s Governor has the strongest budget and transportation authority of any governor in the country. The Speaker has instructed the House transportation subcommittee chairs to ask the tough questions to ensure that there is transparency and accountability for projects in the transportation budget.”

Appearing on the same broadcast just before Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), Hogan vigorously rejected the suggestion that MDOT has intentionally poured money into projects that would benefit HOGAN properties.

“I’m not making decisions based on those kinds of things,” he said.

“I’m a business guy. I’ve had a business for 30 years,” Hogan said. “I have real estate holdings. Every single thing that I have any interest in we turned over to the ethics commission, which is available to the public, which is how this blog wrote this expose.”

Hogan called the article “completely false.”

Addressing a project referenced in the article, the governor said the state’s decision to make improvements along MD Route 5 followed years of lobbying from Prince George’s County leaders, legislators, and U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D).

Washington Monthly is a 50-year-old political journal that publishes bimonthly and has an online presence.

Hogan dismissed the recent story as a political hit job — “something that Democratic operatives have been pushing for a couple years.”

Although he claimed not to have read the story, Hogan rebutted it in detail in response to questions from Steiner and a Daily Record reporter.

“I don’t want to keep talking about it,” he said. “It’s a very complicated story. It’s very convoluted. But I wanted to have a complete blind trust, so I’d have no idea about of that stuff that my ongoing company — what other people — are doing. But the ethics commission wanted to disclose all of the things that were going on.”

HOGAN is being run by by his brother Timothy S. Hogan while the governor runs the state.

Sitting alongside Jones during the radio interview, just hours before becoming Senate president, Ferguson said questions about how the governor’s business might intersect with state spending should be probed by the Maryland State Ethics Commission — whose members the governor appoints and are confirmed by the Senate.

But he too said he found the article alarming.

“I was pretty disturbed on my first read,” Ferguson said.

“The governor has been open about the financial situation that he has established with the ethics commission. And I think it’s in the purview, at the moment, of the ethics commission to move forward one way or the other.”

The renewed talk about Hogan’s real estate holdings comes as the governor has vowed to pursue legislation to crack down on corruption among public officials. He has publicly referenced scandals involving Democratic state lawmakers and former Baltimore mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D).

“The governor is committed to ethics,” Ferguson said. “We are as well. We’ll do what it takes to make sure that we restore people’s faith in government.”

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