PoliticsPrince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Prince George’s Ethics Bill Up for Discussion in House of Delegates

An ethics bill limiting campaign contributions to the Prince George’s County executive is set for discussion Thursday during a public hearing in Annapolis.

The proposed state law presented by Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville passed the county’s House Delegation on Friday. It now goes to be heard before the House Ways and Means Committee.

The bill proposes eliminating a restriction that doesn’t allow developers with pending projects to make campaign contributions to a county executive candidate or a slate that includes the executive.

The ban went in effect more than eight years ago when former County Executive Rushern L. Baker III pushed for the measure after his predecessor Jack Johnson served more than five years in federal prison for bribery and other violations.

Supporters of removing the ban say it hampered Baker from receiving more money during his gubernatorial bid in 2018 Democratic primary.

Davis denied the bill was crafted simply to help County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who is rumored to seek the governor’s seat after Larry Hogan leaves office in 2022.

“The county executive has not stated she was going to run. That’s the assumption everybody else is saying,” he said. “This bill isn’t a four-year bill or a temporary thing. I don’t want us to get comfortable riding shotgun. My motto has always been, ‘lead, follow, or get out of the way.’ That’s what this bill is about: giving us an opportunity.”

Not all state lawmakers from the county approve the measure, however.

“Granted laws don’t necessarily stop abuses, but I think it’s just important to be clear where the lines are around where you can take contributions from,” said Del. Mary Lehman of Laurel, a former county councilwoman. “Across-the-board [doing] away with the prohibition on those donations is not wise. The history goes back beyond Jack Johnson. It was a challenge for decades to undue influence developers had on elected officials in Prince George’s.”

The county isn’t the only jurisdiction with certain restrictions on campaign contributions to the county executive and other county positions.

State Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick County) said his jurisdiction based its ethics bill on laws in Prince George’s and Howard counties. The Frederick County law prohibits attorneys, engineers and other representatives from a particular firm from contributing to campaigns when current projects are under review.

“Development is a huge issue,” Hough said. “When these folks are running for these local offices, a huge percentage of the donations are made up by developers.”

Davis sponsored a similar campaign bill last year that passed in the House but died in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-District 22) of University Park.

Pinsky said Friday the campaign ban represents “good public policy.”

“I think our county has some unique circumstances and unique history,” he said. “We have to sort of go out of the way to show the metropolitan area that [officials] can’t be swayed with development money.”

Even if the measure sponsored by Davis isn’t approved, he is sponsoring another ethics bill prohibiting county executives, mayor of Baltimore City and members of a governing body from receiving campaign contributions “during the pendency of an application regarding county land use planning and zoning matters.” A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for March 3.

“I just want us to all have a level playing field,” he said. “I am cautiously optimistic we can get something done this year.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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