80.26

OPINION NO. 80-26

A Public Health Engineer VI (the Requestor) in the Division of Labor and Industry, Department of Licensing and Regulation, has requested a waiver from the financial disclosure requirements of Title 4 of the Maryland Public Ethics Law (Md. Code Ann., Art. 40A, the Law).

The Requestor is a regular full-time employee in a major division of a principal cabinet Department in State government. He indicates that he is in the State's graded pay system filling a position carrying with it a Grade 18 salary. This information is confirmed in materials provided to the Commission by the State Department of Personnel. The Requestor expressed his view that the financial disclosure requirement results in an invasion of privacy and requested that he therefore be excluded from the disclosure program.

The financial disclosure requirement in §4-101(a) of the Law imposes the responsibility for filing disclosure statements on all "officials," which pursuant to §1-201(v) of the Law includes public officials. Section 1-201(z) of the Law defines a public official to include any individual in the executive branch who is classified at grade level 18 or above. As a Grade 18 employee in a principal cabinet Department the Requestor must be viewed as being "in the executive branch," and therefore a public official as contemplated by §1-201(z) of the Law. He is therefore within the class of persons required to submit a financial disclosure statement in accordance with the provisions of §4-102 of the Law. The Commission has no authority under the Law to exclude from its coverage public officials who are regular employees covered by §1-201(z)(1).

The Requestor expressed "considerable reservation" about the possible invasion of privacy resulting from the disclosure program. We believe that the Law reflects a legislative determination that the public is entitled to assure itself, by access to general financial information pertaining to certain high-level State officials, that the public's business is being conducted in the public interest and not in the personal interest of the responsible State officials. We believe that in requiring disclosure by individuals at certain grade levels, the Legislature adopted a rational classification and did not infringe on any constitutionally or otherwise protected right of privacy. Further, we do not believe it is the province of this Commission to substitute its judgment for that of the Legislature in implementing the financial disclosure provisions of the Law.

Herbert J. Belgrad, Chairman
   Jervis S. Finney
   Reverend John Wesley Holland
  Barbara M. Steckel

Date: November 20, 1980