A recent advisory letter by the Maryland State Ethics Commission should remind those asked to serve on transition teams to be aware of the various state laws that might be triggered by their service.  In the advisory letter, written to a government contractor, the State Ethics Commission concluded that members of the Maryland Governor-Elect’s Transition Team are not “public officials” subject to the requirements imposed by the Maryland Public Ethics Law.

The Commission’s determination makes sense given Maryland law.  The most nearly-relevant provision in the Maryland definition of “public officials” generally applies to individuals in Maryland “executive units.”  Md. Code, Gen. Prov., § 5-103(b).   An “executive unit” is “a department, agency, commission, board, council, or other body of State government that. . . is established by law.”  Id. § 5-101.   Although Maryland law provides for staff, Md. Code, State Gov’t § 3-206, and office space, id. § 3-207, for the Governor-Elect’s transition, the Transition Team itself is not “established by law.”

Although members of the Transition Team are not subject to the Public Ethics Law, other restrictions still apply.  As the Ethics Commission’s letter alludes to, Transition Team members are still subject to the rule that an “individual who assists an executive unit in the drafting of specifications, an invitation for bids, a request for proposals for a procurement, or the selection or award made in response to an invitation for bids or request for proposals, or a person that employs the individual, may not … submit a bid or proposal for that procurement” or “assist or represent another person, directly or indirectly, who is submitting a bid or proposal for that procurement.”  Md. Code, Gen. Prov., § 5-508.  And the Maryland Governor-Elect is considered a “state official” even before inauguration, Md. Code, Gen. Prov., § 5-101(ll)(1), so Maryland’s gift rules apply.

Other states have different laws, of course.  Depending on the state, service on a transition team could implicate ethics codes, lobbying regulations, and government contracting restrictions.  Those asked to volunteer their time to assist state officials in transitions to elected office would be well-advised to understand how state laws might affect them.

Photo of Brendan Parets Brendan Parets

Brendan Parets helps organizations resolve their most sensitive problems involving legal, political, and public relations challenges. He deploys his experiences in a Senate leadership office, as the chief legal officer for a presidential campaign, and representing organizations in Department of Justice and administrative…

Brendan Parets helps organizations resolve their most sensitive problems involving legal, political, and public relations challenges. He deploys his experiences in a Senate leadership office, as the chief legal officer for a presidential campaign, and representing organizations in Department of Justice and administrative investigations and in civil litigation to provide holistic advice that reflects business and political imperatives.

Brendan represents corporations and individuals facing congressional and administrative investigations. He also assists organizations with policy matters before Congress and counsels corporations, non-profit entities, and political committees on compliance with federal and state campaign finance laws.

Brendan rejoined Covington after serving as Chief Counsel to Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ), where he oversaw Senator McSally’s work on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Brendan also managed judiciary, commerce, telecommunications, tax, and trade issues for Senator McSally. He worked closely with Senate leadership, committees of jurisdiction, and executive branch agencies to achieve bipartisan compromise on judicial nominations, reform of Department of Homeland Security grant programs, and trade disputes.

He previously served as Chief Counsel to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Policy Counsel to the Senate Republican Policy Committee, a Senate leadership office chaired at the time by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), and as Chief Counsel to Senator Lindsey Graham’s presidential campaign.