ANNAPOLIS — The House of Delegates voted 127-3 on Tuesday to reprimand a lawmaker for engaging in a conflict of interest when he tried to change legislation in a way that would have helped him get his suspended real estate license back.
The vote came a day after a legislative ethics committee recommended that the House reprimand Del. Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel, for amendments he pushed hard for in the waning days of last year’s legislative session that would have personally benefited him. For example, the changes he sought would have reduced the interest on $75,000 he owed a fund for improper real estate services relating to three clients.
“The law relating to legislator conflict of interest is clear,” said Del. Brian McHale, D-Baltimore, who is a co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. “A member may not participate in a legislative issue if that member will derive a direct and personal financial benefit from it.”
McConkey apologized for his conduct. He said he believed an opinion he received from the General Assembly’s ethics adviser at the time supported him.
“I thought the ethics opinion supported my position,” McConkey said.
However, after McConkey finished explaining his view of what happened, McHale said he felt compelled to note that McConkey sought the advice of the ethics adviser only after he already had taken action to get the amendments passed. McHale also said anyone with a clear mind who would have read the advice of legislative counsel would have known it was “an act of misconduct to have presented that amendment and to have lobbied both houses to have it passed.”
McConkey entered into a settlement agreement in 2010 for charges he committed fraud, misrepresentation and false pretenses against three clients, according to the ethics report. The State Real Estate Commission required McConkey to pay $75,000 to the state’s Real Estate Guaranty Fund, or about $25,000 for each client. McConkey’s real estate license has been suspended until he reimburses the fund in full, including all interest and administrative charges.
The ethics panel found unanimously that McConkey participated in, drafted, offered, lobbied and voted for amendments to the bill and “that a clear and direct financial impact would have flowed to Delegate McConkey as a result of passage of the amendments, in the form of thousands of dollars in reduced interest charges, no administrative charges and possible reinstatement of his real estate salesperson license.”
The ethics complaint was filed by Sen. Edward Reilly, R-Anne Arundel. McConkey approached Reilly on the last day of the legislative session and asked the senator to support the bill. Reilly told the delegate he did not support the amendments McConkey wanted because of concerns raised by a story in The Washington Post about how the changes could benefit McConkey.
“Senator Reilly stated that Delegate McConkey shouted at and cursed the senator and refused to leave his office,” the ethics report said. “Senator Reilly then called the Maryland State Police, Legislative Security Section, who escorted Delegate McConkey from Senator Reilly’s office.”
Later that day, a panel of House and Senate lawmakers removed the amendments favored by McConkey from the bill, which subsequently passed without the amendments.
A reprimand is a lesser disciplinary action lawmakers can take against one of their own. It is basically a formal recognition of an ethics violation. Lawmakers also can censure or expel legislators for ethical transgressions.
Three lawmakers voted against the reprimand, including Dels. Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, Neil Parrott, R-Washington and Glen Glass, R-Harford. McConkey did not vote.