Timing is Everything

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Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has called a special session of the Maryland legislature and in so doing has set off a debate about the propriety of legislators holding fundraisers which involve stakeholders in the legislation they're debating. Holding fundraisers during a special session is legal -- but is it ethical?

Fundraising is banned during normal sessions:

For a decade, Maryland has banned state officials from holding fundraisers during the 90-day sessions that begin in January. The goal, backers say, is to curb the appearance of impropriety by stopping lawmakers from soliciting campaign contributions while voting on legislation that could affect their donors.

It would stand to reason that if fundraising is banned to avoid impropriety, either in act or appearance, during the regular session similar consideration for ethics should be given to the special session. However, the lawmakers in the article rightly argue that this puts them in a difficult position in terms of being able to raise enough money to fund their races. Says Mary Boyle of Common Cause: the ethical questions here are numerous and this is yet another reason why Maryland needs public financing of elections:

"What should be prohibited is people raising money from lobbyists or interests that have direct business before the General Assembly during the special session; anyone who has their hand out on the budget, which I am sure is a lot of interests. We would hope legislators would show some self-control and not try to take advantage of this. It may be legal, but is it in the best interests of Marylanders?"

A Clean Elections law passed out of the Maryland House last year and nearly made it through the Senate. Will this debate over the special session fuel renewed consideration of the bill this year?