On April 10, the Maryland General Assembly made significant changes to the state’s public contractor political contribution disclosure law. Many of the amendments were prompted by questions that had arisen regarding the most recent version of the law, which took effect just this past January.
The new amendments clarify that a contractor awarded a single contract with a state or local governmental entity valued at $200,000 or more is covered by the disclosure law, regardless of whether that contract was awarded before or after January 1, 2015.
An initial political contribution disclosure statement has to be filed when a contract is awarded, and covers contributions made in the 24-month period prior to award. In addition, a contractor that has submitted an initial statement or a contractor that was performing a covered contract as of December 31, 2014, must file semiannual disclosure statements. These reports are due by May 31, for the six months ending on April 30, and by November 30 for the six months ending on October 31. Previously, semiannual reports were due in February and August.
Since the new law does not go into effect until June 1, 2015, special reporting periods have been established for this year. The first report is due August 31, for the February 1 to July 31 period. The second report is due November 30, covering the three-month period of August 1 to October 31.
As a general rule, the reports must disclose:
- The name and office sought of each candidate to whom one or more contributions in the cumulative amount of $500 or more were made during the reporting period;
- The amount of aggregate contributions made to each such candidate;
- The name of each unit of a governmental entity with which the contractor had a contract of $200,000 or more during the period;
- The nature and amount of business done with each unit of a governmental entity; and
- The name of the applicable person or entity, if the business was done or the contribution was made by a person, but attributed to the contractor.
Abbreviated reports can filed in two instances. If a covered contractor did not make any contribution in a cumulative amount of $500 or more to a candidate during the reporting period, the statement need only (i) provide a stipulation to that effect, and (ii) disclose the name of each unit of a governmental entity which with the contractor has a covered contract.
In addition, a contractor can seek a waiver from the State Board of Elections if it can show that it would be “unduly burdensome” for the contractor to identify each unit of government with which it has a contract exceeding $200,000. In that event, the contractor does not have to file an initial statement, and the semiannual statements can exclude the information concerning the units of government with which it contracts and the nature of its government business. Presumably, a contractor with a waiver that does not make any reportable contribution during a period would only need to submit a stipulation to that effect.
Such waivers have been difficult to obtain in the past. The State Board of Elections has indicated that it will develop guidelines on this and other provisions of the law once it has been enacted. Governor Hogan is expected to sign the legislation.