Responding to a complaint by The Brew, the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board has ordered Baltimore’s Board of Ethics to release the list of donors to a legal defense fund set up for City Council President Nick Mosby and his wife, former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
The city violated the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) when it refused to release the list of more than 130 donors – with names and addresses – to The Brew and other media, the state panel said in an eight-page ruling released today.
The ethics board had argued that the information could be withheld under a provision of the MPIA that concerns the financial information of individuals.
But The Brew argued that the names of donors to the prominent couple were not shielded from disclosure by that part of the act and the information requested more closely resembled political contributions, which are public.
The state panel agreed, concluding that the provision cited by lawyers for the city does not shield the redacted information from disclosure.
“Campaign finance activity,” the ruling noted, “is not ordinarily protected financial information.
“We think that donations like these – donations that are made to support elected officials in their political capacities – are much more akin to that sort of financial activity, which is commonly accepted as disclosable,” the board found.
“The donations are relevant to understanding who might be seeking to curry favor with powerful elected officials.”
Retired Anne Arundel County Attorney David A. Plymyer assisted The Brew with legal arguments made in its appeal.
Officials from the Ethics Board and the city Law Department have not yet responded to a query from The Brew about whether the city will appeal the decision or provide the list.
After publication, Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson said the city will appeal the decision but declined to comment on its reasons.
“We will reserve further comment for the appropriate judicial forum,” Thompson said.
Also after publication, the Baltimore Sun published a story saying the news organization had filed its own complaint about the redactions and received a similar response from the Compliance Board.
Today’s ruling concludes with this directive:
“We therefore direct the BOE [Board of Ethics] to produce an unredacted list of donors to the Mosby Trust to the complainant.”
It is signed by board members Michele L. Cohen, Samuel G. Encarnacion, Debra Lynn Gardner and Nivek M. Johnson.