SEABROOK – In the wake of FBI raids and arrests in a corruption and bribery scandal involving members and staff of the Prince George’s County Liquor Board, as well as a former state delegate, state officials are proposing legislation to reform the board. On Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a package of legislation called […]
SEABROOK – In the wake of FBI raids and arrests in a corruption and bribery scandal involving members and staff of the Prince George’s County Liquor Board, as well as a former state delegate, state officials are proposing legislation to reform the board.
On Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a package of legislation called the “Integrity in Government Initiative,” which is designed to increase ethics and transparency in both the executive and legislative branches. The week prior, state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-26) said he would also be introducing legislation aimed at reducing the possibility of corruption in the county liquor license process.
“When legislators are being charged with taking cash bribes to sell their votes, it is time for action to be taken to finally clean up this mess in Annapolis,” Hogan said Jan. 19. “The time is now to take action through this important reform legislation which will have a dramatic and positive impact on our continuing efforts to clean up the political system in Maryland.”
Muse, speaking on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on Jan. 13, said the liquor board indictments are not reflective of how the majority of the elected and appointed officials in Prince George’s County behave.
“This is not our county, and this is not what we condone, and we are going to continue to work to make sure this does not happen,” Muse said.
The FBI has indicted now-former liquor board Commissioner Anuj Sud and Director of the Prince George’s County Board of License Commissioners David Dae Sok Son, as well as two county business owners, for bribery and conspiracy related to liquor board matters. Former state delegate Will Campos also pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.
Part of Hogan’s broader ethics reform package is the Liquor Board Reform Act of 2017, which would change liquor board appointments. While the state senators would still send the names of their chosen nominees to the governor, who makes the appointments, the senators would be required to be more public and formal about those nominations, and the individuals selected would have to undergo criminal background checks. The county’s central committee would be cut out of the process.
“Given the recent indictments of both liquor board members and legislators, it has become clear that it is finally time to clean up this mess. These positions should be filled by qualified and fully-vetted professional, law-enforcing and law-abiding regulators, not by members of a corrupt criminal enterprise which is filled by people in political patronage jobs who can shake down license holders or license applicants for cash bribes or for campaign contributions,” Hogan said.
The state ethics commission would also get oversight over the nomination process.
Muse agreed that the liquor board system needs to be reformed.
“Ours is outdated, it’s antiquated. It’s (from) back in the day when senators were seen as the controllers of the county – we’re not. We’re public servants,” Muse said. “And if you don’t put layers of checks and balances in place, what we’re setting ourselves up for is persons who have a propensity to do this to actually be able to get away with it.”
He will propose setting up a task force to study how other jurisdictions handle the liquor board appointment process to see what Prince George’s County can do differently.
Muse also said the “Sunday Sales Bill,” which the FBI alleges at least one lawmaker took bribes to ensure was passed by the House of Delegates, should be repealed. Muse said the 100 licenses the law awarded represented a compromise between legislators who didn’t want any sales on Sundays and those who supported expanded sales, but it created a perfect environment for corruption to occur, with bidding and competition set in motion for the limited licenses. Muse did not support the bill.
“I’m going to put a bill in that says it’s either Sunday sales for all or Sunday sales for none,” he said. “ We should not have 100 licenses only for a county with over 600 businesses.”
Another of Hogan’s reforms would also prevent corruption from reoccurring, the governor said. The Public Integrity Act of 2017 would prohibit any legislative or executive branch staff member from lobbying officials for one year after they leave the state’s employment, and prohibit any employee of a lobbying firm from being appointed to a board or commission. Legislators would also be forbidden from advocating for laws directly benefiting a business they own or which employs them.
“We cannot allow the unethical behavior of a few to tarnish the goodwill of the many in our state capital,” Hogan said. “We cannot allow a culture of corruption to take root and to grow in our state. Together, we have a shared obligation to restore the honor and the foundation of public trust that these proud institutions once held.”