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An ethics spat in Annapolis

Hogan urged tougher rules for lawmakers; now some want to explore his business deals

"A lot of the information is not new, but I think enough of what came out is new that an investigation is needed from the General Assembly," says Del. Vaughn Steward, D-Montgomery. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

“A lot of the information is not new, but I think enough of what came out is new that an investigation is needed from the General Assembly,” says Del. Vaughn Steward, D-Montgomery. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday dismissed questions about his private financial dealings as a non-story even as some lawmakers say they would like to review how the second-term Republican’s interests may dovetail with decisions made on transportation projects.

The governor’s sharp rebuke came a days after a new report was published alleging Hogan’s real estate holdings have increased in value as a result of his funding of nearby transportation projects. Del. Vaughn Stewart, D-Montgomery, said he is interested in having legislators review Hogan’s financial disclosures and other business documents to learn more about the transactions and possibly seek changes in ethics laws.

“So the article was completely false,” Hogan said at the annual Annapolis Summit session sponsored by The Daily Record. “There’s no truth to it, and I don’t want to keep talking about it.”

A story published in the Washington Monthly raised questions about how the governor’s official actions may have affected his private business holdings. The publication alleged that Hogan’s real estate company — holdings operated by trustees with whom the governor has pledged to have no contact or influence — has benefited from road projects approved during his time in office.

But Hogan said his financial disclosures and tax returns have all been made publicly available and that he has gone beyond the disclosures he said the state ethics commission advised him to take prior to being sworn in for his first term.

“I could not liquidate all that stuff when I became governor,” said Hogan. “(The ethics commission) didn’t ask me to. The best way they thought to do it was to fully disclose every single thing and file it every year.”

Hogan noted that one of the state transportation projects described in the magazine article as benefiting his company’s developments – improvements along Route 5 in southern Maryland – has long been sought by residents, businesses and local political leaders of both parties.

Asked whether they thought Hogan’s handling of his businesses while governor should be investigated, House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President William “Bill”  Ferguson indicated that legislative committees plan to examine those issues.  Both were reluctant to offer additional comment.

Jones said a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee would likely take up the issue to start.

Ferguson said he was initially disturbed by the new report but said he wants to “believe in the best of people’s intentions.”

“I will say I was pretty disturbed on my first read,” said Ferguson. “I think it is helpful to get the context and certainly the governor has been open  about the financial situation that he’s established with the ethics commission and I think it’s in the purview, at the moment, of the ethics commission to move forward one way or the other.”

The legislative interest in Hogan’s financial disclosure reports and business deals comes as the governor has been outspoken about what he calls a pervasive “culture of corruption” in Annapolis, pointing to a string of recent indictments of former state legislators. Hogan has unveiled proposals for stricter ethics rules for lawmakers.

Stewart said the new article on Hogan’s real estate company — previously covered in the last two years by other news outlets — raises concerns that should be reviewed by the General Assembly.

“A lot of the information is not new, but I think enough of what came out is new that an investigation is needed from the General Assembly,” said Stewart, a first-term Montgomery County Democrat. “From my perspective, we need to be asking a lot harder questions of the governor.”

Stewart said Hogan, like other real estate developers, are in a unique position to benefit from state projects and said the article shows Hogan “knew where his financial holdings were and that he authorized infrastructure improvement projects near those holdings that he then derived a profit from.”

Stewart said the review would likely include Hogan’s agreement with the ethics commission and “has he been abiding by it” as well as who is responsible for enforcing it. Stewart also said he wants a review of whether or not Hogan has complied with the law — he stopped short of accusing the governor of wrongdoing — and whether the law needs to be changed.

“We need access to a lot of answers and we need access to a lot of documents,” said Stewart, later saying that many of the documents sought might never be made public because they would likely contain proprietary information that could not be disclosed.



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