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Ethics panel reprimands Garagiola for violating financial disclosure statute

Md. state senator has said he didn't include certain work-income information on forms

May 03, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Garagiola
Garagiola

A legislative ethics committee has reprimanded state Sen.Robert J. Garagiolafor violating a financial disclosure statute by not declaring outside income for six years.

However, the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics noted that Garagiola, D-Montgomery, previously filed a conflict-of-interest form — calling that a “partially-mitigating element” — and decided a reprimand was enough.

A letter from the committee’s co-chairmen to Randa Fahmy Hudome of Potomac, Md., whose complaint triggered the review, said “further proceedings are not justified at this time because the violations have been cured, and, after consideration of all the circumstances, further proceedings would not serve the purposes of this subtitle.”

Garagiola, the Senate majority leader, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District seat, losing to John Delaney in an April 3 primary.

Delaney, who will face incumbent Rep.Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., in the general election, hammered Garagiola during the campaign over the disclosure issue.

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Garagiola has acknowledged that he didn’t include certain work-income information on his required legislative ethics forms.

But he said the omission was based on his interpretation of misleading wording on the disclosure form, which seemed to ask only for income connected to any company that a legislator owned or was a partner in.

Garagiola has denied an allegation that he intentionally withheld information about his connection to Greenberg Traurig from 2001 through 2003 to hide his past as a lobbyist.

Garagiola noted that he also didn’t declare income from his current employer, the law firm of Stein, Sperling, Bennett, De Jong, Driscoll, PC, from 2004 through 2006.

After Delaney’s campaign raised the issue, Garagiola amended his disclosure forms, Garagiola has said.

Garagiola could not be reached for comment on Thursday on his cellphone, his office phone or through his campaign.

Hudome, a Republican, said Thursday that she’s not satisfied with the committee’s conclusion, which she received in an April 23 letter fromSen.Norman R. StoneJr.and Del.Brian K. McHale, the ethics committee’s co-chairmen.

She said the panel let Garagiola off easy.

“The old boys’ network is alive and well,” she said.

Hudome wondered why it took her complaint, a month after the issue surfaced, to spur the committee to do anything.

The Herald-Mailobtained a copy of the ethics committee’s letter, which found that Garagiola’s actions, as described in Hudome’s complaint, “constituted a violation” of the statutes she cited.

But the letter said that shortly after Garagiola took office in the legislature, he filed a disclaimer form noting “the appearance of conflict related to his employment in a law firm that dealt with matters of health care law and regulation, though he did not name the law firm in that filing.”

Hudome said the disclaimer should have been more thorough, noting what issues Garagiola worked on, who his clients were and who his employer was.

She said her complaint wasn’t a personal attack, but a call for transparency in government.

Last year, Sen. Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George’s, was acquitted of federal bribery and conspiracy charges that stemmed from his failure to disclose money he received as a consultant and his possible influence on behalf of his client.

This year, the Senate — at the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics — voted to censure Currie.

Details of Currie’s case were public because the committee made a recommendation to the Senate, said William G. Somerville, an ethics adviser for the General Assembly.

Somerville said he couldn’t comment on Garagiola’s case because it was handled confidentially.

In general, when the ethics committee receives a complaint about a lawmaker, it can offer advice to or admonish that person.

If the case is forwarded to either the House or Senate for consideration, the options include reprimand, censure and expulsion, Somerville said.

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