Maryland Public Ethics Law mandates that the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), a bi-county agency which includes the Montgomery and Prince George’s Planning Boards and other departments, require disclosure by lobbyists.
Towards that end, M-NCPPC adopted a policy on lobbying disclosure in 1983, which was amended in 1985. The policy requires lobbyists to register with M-NCPPC and to file a report annually with the Commission. Paid lobbyists should be reporting expenditures on meals, entertainment and gifts to Commissioners or their employees in addition to their compensation and monies spent on lobbying materials and research subject to certain regulations and thresholds.
The current Commission does none of this.
That means that lobbyists before the Planning Boards, which handle decisions with incredible monetary impact, aren’t registering or filing reports. A recent evaluation in by the Office of the General Counsel in response to a citizen complaint, reveals that even the old policy doesn’t fully comply with current law.
You can read M-NCPPC’s Office of the General Counsel’s recent report and review the 1985 policy below. Even their own counsel says that M-NCPPC is way out of compliance: “no lobbying registrations had apparently been filed in recent memory.”
Montgomery and Prince George’s need to wake up. Montgomery has always prided itself on being a squeaky-clean reform county, but its own Planning Board has failed to enforce any of its own or Maryland’s ethics requirements even though its decisions and recommendations can provide many millions in benefits to people invested and involved in property development.
This raises serious questions. Why hasn’t the Commission or either Planning Board done anything to enforce ethics regulations related to lobbying? Why has Planning Board Staff failed to carry out the Board’s adopted policy? Why didn’t the Office of the General Counsel make sure that M-NCPPC was in compliance up until now?
At the end of its report, the Office of the General Council states:
OGC recommends that the Commission promptly complete the process for a substantial overhaul of its lobbying regulations. The Commission’s executive team has made a commitment to revise and adopt new, clarifying lobbying regulations before the end of the 2021 calendar year, and to launch an energetic campaign of public education to introduce them after adoption.
None of that has happened.
The report was supposed to be discussed finally at the December 2021 M-NCPPC Board meeting but was yanked from the agenda at the last minute. In other words, M-NCPPC has already failed to honor its “commitment” to clean up this ethics mess by the end of 2021.
The Montgomery and Prince George’s County Councils, which fund and appoint each county’s Planning Board, need to investigate quickly and ensure that a new, cleaner regime arrives at the Planning Board’s new Wheaton headquarters with officials and planners willing to abide by and to enforce the law.