Ex-O'Malley campaign manager failed to register as lobbyist
Rite of Passage, a for-profit juvenile services provider, fought hard to defeat a Maryland bill to limit the capacity of private facilities such as the one it is opening this month in rural Carroll County.
But one of the Nevada-based company's most important advocates -- a former government aide and campaign manager for Gov. Martin O''Malley -- failed to register with the State Ethics Commission.
Josh White, who works for Annapolis powerhouse Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan and Silver, said the missing lobbying registration for the legislative session was an unintentional paperwork oversight that he is working to correct.
"The firm had every intent to disclose my clear and highly visible advocacy for this important juvenile services facility," White said in an e-mailed statement. "All fees and expenses were reported and disclosed. The firm submitted paperwork to fix the administrative error."
White left the O'Malley administration to become a lobbyist in late 2007.
White personally lobbied lawmakers and spoke to reporters on Rite of Passage's behalf throughout the January to April legislative session, though the company is officially the client of Michael Johansen, another Rifkin employee.
Everything Rite of Passage has paid to the firm for the session -- $27,100 -- is documented on Johansen's filings, White said. The company has paid Rifkin lobbyists about $50,000 in the past year, according to disclosure forms.
The State Ethics Commission can levy fines and other penalties on unregistered lobbyists.
According to its Web site: "If the Ethics Commission determines that the respondent has violated the law, it may issue an order of compliance or issue a reprimand. The Commission may require a respondent to file any additional reports or information and has the power to impose a fine not to exceed $5,000 for each violation."
The site also notes that unintentionally late registrations, which White said is the case here, can result in up to $250 in fees.
"From the commission's perspective, when people voluntarily come forward to acknowledge a problem, it doesn't make sense to severely sanction them" said Robert Hahn, executive director of the ethics commission. "We know that mistakes can happen and do happen."
Rite of Passage succeeded in batting down Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin's bill to limit all private juvenile facilities to 48 beds -- a law already on the books for state juvenile facilities.
The company's lobbyists were the only ones to testify against Zirkin's bill. White said he "look(s) forward to working with them for years to come."