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County to strengthen lobbyist bill

countysealThe Montgomery County Council will consider a bill to implement recommendations by the Montgomery County Ethics Commission for strengthening the County’s laws on conflicts of interest, financial disclosure and lobbying by closing the so-called “revolving door” between the lobbying industry and the County government.

Introduced Tuesday by Council President Hans Riemer (D-At-Large), Bill 2-18 would subject anyone employed by the County Executive or the County Council to a one-year lobbying ban when they leave their public employment. The bill would also prohibit County employees who are former lobbyists from working in departments that overlapped with their lobbying activities.

Riemer said he does not yet have an “in-depth view” on the legislation itself, and stressed that he is sponsoring the legislation as a courtesy to the Ethics Commission, which specifically requested the Council President introduce the bill on its behalf. 

“[I]t certainly has happened,” Riemer said when asked if he’s seen County employees leave for lobbying jobs. “It’s not a situation like the federal government where you have these revolving doors, but it certainly has happened.”

According to the Montgomery County Ethics Commission, a person or organization engages in lobbying when they spend money to influence a County agency. Current law requires lobbyists to register with the Ethics Commission and file semiannual reports that disclose the names of public employees who receive any gift valued at $50 or more from a lobbyist, any special events to which members of the County Council or other government employees are invited, and the total amount of compensation the lobbyist receives for lobbying work.

Robert Cobb, who serves as staff director for the Montgomery County Ethics Commission, said the recommendations on which Bill 2-18 are based were prompted by a change to state ethics laws which implemented similar restrictions. 

“To address requirements of State ethics law, the Commission recommends the adoption of a conflict of interest prohibition on participating in matters affecting a party for whom a public employee was, in the past year, required to register as a lobbyist,” Cobb said. “This provision is intended to prevent lobbyists entering County service from taking action that affects the firm the individual was lobbying for, for at least for one year.”

Another provision of Bill 2-18 would require the Ethics Commission to redact the home address of a public employee from a financial disclosure statement, and would also require public employees to include any income from lobbying work on their financial disclosure statements. A public hearing for the bill is scheduled for the March 6 Council meeting.

@neal_earley

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