From left: Gary Brown, Jr., recently indicted on illegal campaign donation charges; Gov. Larry Hogan, currently pushing for state ethics reforms; and Del. Dan Morhaim, recently reprimanded for his medical pot consulting work.

As Maryland legislators mull government ethics reform bills before the General Assembly session draws to a close, a new poll shows residents from around the state and in Baltimore specifically are concerned about corruption.

The data, gathered by the University of Maryland and The Washington Post, shows nearly three in five Baltimore residents feel corruption is a “big problem” among Baltimore officials. By comparison, only nine percent of Montgomery County residents felt that way about their government.

Marylanders: How big a problem is corruption in your county government?

— Post Polls (@PostPolls) March 24, 2017

In state government, about a third of all Marylanders feel corruption is a big problem, with another 44 percent saying it’s a “small problem,” according to the poll published by the Post. Only 15 percent of those surveyed said they don’t think corruption is a problem in Maryland.

The data shed new light on how well Marylanders trust their elected officials as the General Assembly considers a series of ethics reforms. Gov. Larry Hogan publicly targeted corruption at the beginning of the legislative session in January. “We cannot allow a culture of corruption to grow and take root in our state,” he said on the State House steps on Jan. 19.

His proposals included the Liquor Board Reform Act of 2017, which would create a stricter process for appointing members of city or county liquor boards, and the Public Integrity Act of 2017, a bill preventing legislators from filing bills that could benefit their own businesses and barring staffers from lobbying for one year after leaving their posts.

Neither house has voted on the former. The House of Delegates passed the latter in a unanimous vote last week. The bill now awaits a vote in the Senate.

Another proposal on the table from Hogan called the Redistricting Reform Act would aim to end the unfair practice of gerrymandering – where lawmakers can manipulate district boundaries to favorably suit a party’s voters.

The measure didn’t pass in the house, but another bill that would take effect only if five other states pass an identical bill in their assembly sessions has passed in the Senate and awaits a vote in the House. That bill would appoint a regional nonpartisan commission to draw district boundary lines in each states.

The General Assembly has until April 10 to pass any new legislation and send it to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

Hogan pressed for reforms after a series of scandals:

  • Mayor Catherine Pugh’s former campaign aide Gary Brown, Jr., nearly due to be sworn in for an open delegate seat in December, was charged a day before his official appointment with making $18,000 in illegal contributions to Pugh’s mayoral campaign;
  • A Prince George’s County Liquor Board director and two other officials were arrested on federal bribery charges for allegedly orchestrating deals with or taking money from business owners to weaken liquor regulations;
  • Del. Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County was being investigated by a legislative ethics commission for working as a consultant for a budding medical pot firm around the same time he helped create the framework for the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry. That was settled when he was given a reprimand by his fellow assembly members.

University of Maryland associate professor Michael Hanmer, who directs the school’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship, a polling partner with the Post, said in an interview that the statewide sample of 914 residents showed differences in perceptions about government between each jurisdiction.

“People’s experiences with government differ often based on where they live,” he said.

Asked whether the timing of the legislative session or recent corruption cases would have affected respondents’ answers, Hanmer said, “The point were we are in the legislative session matters here to some extent…In general, what’s going on and how prominent the story is will affect survey respondents.”

The poll was conducted by telephone from March 16-19. It has a sampling error margin of plus or minus four percentage points.

This story has been updated with additional comment from Hanmer.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...