Loophole means officials’ interests in final year in office remain secret

Posted Jan. 04, 2012, at 12:01 a.m.

Citizens who want to understand the potential conflicts between private and public interests in the State House aren’t just handicapped by disclosures that don’t disclose much.

There are also the disclosures that don’t exist.

A loophole in state ethics law means that lawmakers and executive branch officials who leave office between one year’s disclosure filing deadline and the next year’s filing deadline don’t have to file a disclosure for their last year, or portion of a year, in state government.

An example: Rep. Joseph Bruno, R-Raymond, left office at the end of 2004. Ethics Commission staffer Cyndi Phillips had this response when asked for a copy of Bruno’s 2004 financial disclosure:

“Unfortunately, we do not have a disclosure form for Sen. Bruno for 2004 because he would not have had to report until February 2005, when he no longer was in office.”

The disclosure law’s wording is at fault, said Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director.

“It’s written so each legislator has the obligation to do that,” said Wayne. By the filing deadline for Bruno’s last year in office, “Joe Bruno was not a legislator. So under the way the statute was written, we wouldn’t expect to receive a statement for Mr. Bruno in 2004, which was his last year of service.”

It’s the same situation for executive branch officials who leave their jobs. There is no disclosure form on file, for example, for the last month and a half that Kurt Adams served as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission in 2008.

“Kurt Adams was not required to file a statement because he left his position in May 2008 — 11 months before the reporting deadline,” said Wayne.

Wayne wrote that statement in May of 2010, adding that he and other members of the Ethics Commission staff believed this to be a loophole in the law.

“The commission staff plans to propose some amendments to [the law], including instituting a reporting requirement for former employees,” wrote Wayne in an email.

“I’m not sure exactly what the proposed requirement will be, but it could be something along the lines of requiring managerial employees to file a statement for the current year upon the termination of their employment.”

That change has yet to be proposed by the Ethics Commission, but in December 2011, Wayne said it was an option the commission would consider for the next full legislative session in 2013.

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