Sen. Bryan Simonaire’s (R-31) Commercial
Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-31, Anne Arundel) has done a commercial for Walt Eger’s auto service center. In the commercial, shown above, Sen. Simonaire uses his title and appears in front of his vehicle complete with Senate license plate and a Simonaire-State Senate sticker on the front of the hood.
The ethics laws governing conduct by members of the General Assembly prohibit commercials like this in a clearcut manner:
Use of Prestige of Office (§ 15-506) The Ethics Law prohibits the intentional use of a legislator’s “prestige of office” for private gain or that of another, but allows the performance of usual and customary constituent services that are provided without compensation.
Even more specifically, the ethics guidelines state:
Do not publicly endorse a commercial entity or product under circumstances that invoke one’s position as a legislator.
Unfortunately for Sen. Simonaire, this is exactly what he did.
If Sen. Simonaire got paid to do the commercials, that would move the problem to selling the prestige of office instead of just using it for the private gain of another.
Simonaire Serves on Ethics Reform Committee
Sen. Simonaire serves currently on the Senate Special Committee on Ethics Reform. In the past, he also was a member of the Work Group to Review Disclosure Requirements of the Public Ethics Law. While ignorance of the law would not serve an excuse, it seems especially thin in this case.
Eger Made Campaign Contributions to Simonaire
Sen. Simonaire received $1000 in campaign contributions from Walt Eger in 2014 election cycle, according to his campaign finance report filed on October 19, 2014.
This same report also reveal loans by Sen. Simonaire in the amount of $54,100 to his own campaign. The most recently filed report indicates that the loan amount remains the same, so it does not appear that the Eger’s contribution has been used towards reimbursing that loan.
The reported cash balance for Simonaire’s campaign committee is $36,701.47. Simonaire could conceivably use funds to pay back the loans. But many legislators never reimburse themselves for these loans and carry them forward for many years.
This could all be friendly in the sense that Walt Eger likes Sen. Bryan Simonaire enough to donate to his campaign. Similarly, Sen. Simonaire could want to help out his friend’s business.
The problem is this sort of cozy relationship that works to the commercial benefit of Walt Eger and the political benefit of Sen. Simonaire is exactly what the General Assembly’s ethics rules are designed to prevent.
This likely serious violation of ethics rules will provide a test for not only how the General Assembly handles these problems–including the leadership of both parties–but also how Gov. Larry Hogan addresses problems within the party that he heads.