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Ethics Law Makes for Couple's Unusual Gift Registry

Marriage: When a lobbyist weds a Maryland state legislator, she may have to file public records announcing the cost of his ring. Some guests may have to list the value of food consumed at the reception.

November 03, 1996|TOM STUCKEY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Kimberly McCoy has the usual worries of any bride-to-be, plus one big one all her own: The private ceremony she envisioned could become a matter of public record in all its details.

Will she have to tell the world how much she spent on her fiance's wedding ring? Perhaps. Will some guests have to file reports listing the value of the food and drink they enjoyed at the reception? Maybe.

And will the couple have to go with the chicken rather than the prime rib? Quite possibly.

Why? Because McCoy is a lobbyist and her fiance, Michael Burns, is a state legislator. That means their wedding Nov. 23 is tangled up in Maryland laws governing relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.

"I'm really, really trying to have just a normal wedding ceremony," McCoy said. "It's really sad that the happiest day of my life is marred by this."

Burns and McCoy went to the State Ethics Commission and a legislative ethics committee seeking an exemption for their wedding. But the commission said it lacked jurisdiction, and the committee is not scheduled to meet until three days before the event.

The fact that she might have to list the ring as a gift is the biggest issue for McCoy.

"What could be more private than a wedding ring?" she said.

Their solution: The couple will borrow his father's ring for the ceremony, and she will give him his ring after they are married but before the reception.

Since lawmakers do not have to report gifts from spouses, Burns will not have to list it on his financial disclosure statement next year. McCoy is hoping that the law will be changed by the time her own report is due, allowing the cost of the ring to remain private.

Their situation is also complicated by the fact that her father, Dennis McCoy, is a lobbyist and is paying for the reception.

If the value of the reception is more than $25 per person, legislators and state officials who attend will have to report it as a gift. Burns said they are working with the caterer to keep it below $25.

"Or I can just pay the cost of the legislators' meals, and then they are accepting a gift from me, not a lobbyist," he said. Gifts from legislators to other legislators do not have to be reported.

The ethics commission did give approval for McCoy to pay for the reception even though it exceeds the $15 limit for gifts from lobbyists to legislators, ruling that the reception is "more in line with expected family participation . . . than a gift."

Only one other lobbyist is invited to the wedding, and the couple will have to report the value of his gift. Legislators will be allowed to give gifts at will.

But after the wedding, there will be another catch for McCoy. Gifts and meals from her parents will be regulated by the lobbying law as soon as she becomes a legislator's spouse. So what will happen with Christmas and birthday presents from Mom and Dad?

"We haven't quite figured out that problem yet. One crisis at a time," Burns said.

Sen. Michael Collins, co-chairman of the legislative ethics committee, said the law needs to be changed: "We've certainly sunk to idiotic levels here."

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