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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sen. Exum sponsors bill to weaken county council ethics rules

Comment: Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-24), who has been investigated for ethical lapses, is sponsoring a bill to weaken the ethics rules that govern the Prince George's County Council.  Sen. Exum's daughter, Council member Camille Exum (D-7), has also been in the news for misusing county credit cards for her own personal expenses.

Bill Targets Curb on Pr. George's Donations.
Post, 4 Feb 2009 (Helderman & Wagner ).
A state senator from Prince George's has proposed repealing a law prohibiting members of the Prince George's County Council, including his daughter, from accepting campaign contributions from developers with pending land-use applications.

Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D) filed a bill late Monday that would remove the law, in place since 1993, that forbids contributions to council members in Prince George's from anyone involved in development -- including land-use attorneys, engineers, real estate brokers and others -- while they have a development action pending.

The law also bans a council member from participating in discussions of any development project that involves a person who has contributed to his or her campaign within the previous three years.

Exum's daughter, Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant), has been on the County Council since 2002. She will be forced from that office by term limits in 2010, but she is widely believed to be weighing a run for another office, including perhaps Prince George's county executive. She was reelected to her second and final term in 2006 but has accepted additional campaign contributions since then.

The law has done little to reduce the amount of developer contributions to candidates for County Council, which is responsible for all zoning and planning decisions in Prince George's. That's because of a provision in the law that allows council candidates to form political slates with candidates for other offices, such as the state Senate and House of Delegates. Those slates are allowed to accept development contributions, and council members have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars through joint accounts.

Sen. Exum said yesterday that his bill was designed to eliminate the "unnecessary impediment" of forming slate committees, a requirement not imposed on council members in other counties or on Prince George's residents seeking election to the state legislature.

"Why do they have to go get a state candidate to be on a slate with them, and then they still get the contribution?" he said. "All it's doing is removing that impediment."

He said the proposal was not designed to help his daughter, noting that she cannot run again for the council and has not announced plans to seek another office.

"It'll apply to anyone," he said. "It doesn't necessarily apply to my daughter."

Exum's bill would not lift the prohibition of developer contributions to the county executive, which are also now banned while applications are pending. The bill also would not change a requirement that developers file an affidavit with project proposals in which they disclose past contributions to the council.

The proposal immediately raised eyebrows in Annapolis, in part because it comes during a wide-ranging federal probe of development in the county. In September, the FBI raided three county offices and the homes of a developer, a former County Council member and a top fire official as part of the investigation.

"I'm just shocked to see this bill come forward," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whose district includes part of Prince George's. "I don't want to speculate as to who or what it's supposed to benefit, but it doesn't smack of good government."

One of those whose homes was raided, real estate broker Patrick Ricker, contributed $1,000 to Camille Exum's campaign in July 2007, according to records maintained by the State Board of Elections. He declined to comment yesterday.

"It would affect people who are currently under investigation," Miller said of the repeal proposal. "To me, it sends the wrong signal as to what we should be concerned about. I would just think at this point in time we need to see where this inquiry, where this investigation goes."

Camille Exum said she was not aware of her father's legislative proposal and had no position on whether it should be approved by the General Assembly. She said that she has made no decisions about her political future and that the bill would not make it easier for her to raise money because of her ability now to join slate committees.

"You can raise those monies if you are slated," she said. "Every council member is slated. It's no additional assistance for me."

Since her election in 2002, Exum has been a member of three campaign slates. Her own campaign account, the Friends of Camille Exum, has not filed a report for 2008, although the report was due by law on Jan. 21.

It is the responsibility of campaign treasurers and chairmen to file on-time reports, and Exum said yesterday that she was unaware that hers had not yet been submitted. She also said she would need to look back at her records to confirm that she had accepted the 2007 donation from Ricker. If the donation had been problematic, she would have been alerted to the problem by the State Ethics Commission, she said.

State lawmakers who originally passed the ban on contributions said they did so to stem influence-buying by wealthy development interests.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's) said he thinks that if lawmakers are concerned with the requirement that council members form slate committees, they should close the loophole in the law that allows developers to donate to them.

"I think we should be going in the other direction. I don't think we just open it up for people to pay to play," he said.
 Senator seeks to repeal ethics law; Exum wants to lift ban on developers' direct donations to council members.
Gazette, 5 Feb 2009 (Valentine).

SB 391 [Text]

Sponsored by: Senator Exum

Entitled: Prince George's County - Council Member - Ethics Laws Governing Campaign Contributions, Participation, and Voting

Repealing the provision of law prohibiting a specified person from making a specified payment to the campaign of a member of the Prince George's County Council during the pendency of a specified application; and repealing the provision of law prohibiting a member of the County Council from voting on a specified application or participating in a specified proceeding under specified circumstances.

(Updated 5 Feb 2009)

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