"Pay-to-play" gets second act in Prince George's via Assembly action

us_money.jpg/PM BlogSpace Report/ Developer cash has long ruled the roost in Prince George’s County government. In the 2012 reform of “pay to play” electoral culture outlined here, Council members and the executive were barred from such campaign contributions from active applicants as posing a clear conflict of interest.

Now a powerful committee chair, Dereck E. Davis of Prince George’s, has engineered a reversal of that protection. Bad things may happen.



 

/PM BlogSpace Report/ Developer cash has long ruled the roost in Prince George’s County government. In the 2012 reform of “pay to play” electoral culture outlined in this Maryland Matters article (below), Council members and the executive were barred from such campaign contributions from active applicants as posing a clear conflict of interest.

The loophole that allows developers to freely fatten the coffers of legislative “slates” – who may in turn reward compliant Council incumbents as they seek more time at the public trough – is less noticed.

Now, the executive may solicit such funds – a move widely seen as bolstering exec Angela D. Alsobrooks’ potential as a gubernatorial candidate. Though the outcome may have reflected the “absence of a powerful committee chairman” [Sen. Pinsky], it also reflected the persistent and feared presence of another powerful committee chair, Dereck E. Davis of Prince George’s, whose iron fist makes the House Economic Matters Committee a business-friendly obstacle to much legislation that would benefit the public but discomfit the wealthy. Assembly members are therefore wary of crossing him.

Davis, in recent months, lectured the Prince George’s delegation at a meeting at Prince George’s Community College that the recent consolidation of the new Assembly leadership in Baltimore left Prince George’s “on our own” in a political terrain that, he said, was “all about power.” Unleashing the power of developer money in the service of putting a Prince Georgian in the governor’s seat, he argued, was the way back to political power for the county.

Real political power for the county, however, would come from public confidence in fair elections – for instance, in accelerating and strengthening the Fair Elections Public Financing Legislation the Council grudgingly passed last year.

Davis’s bill, which passed this week as recounted in lively detail below, is a major setback for a county still fighting a perception of corruption and a “pay to play” political landscape. Davis’s bill will amplify that sorry label. It demands a gubernatorial veto that, for a change, would be welcome.

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Legislature OKs Prince George’s Developer Bill in Pinsky’s Absence

/By Josh Kurtz<>Maryland Matters/ Did the absence of a powerful committee chairman in the State House Tuesday [March 17] smooth the way for a bill that could unleash real estate cash in Prince George’s County elections?us_money.jpg

With Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) excused for the rest of session — his wife died early Tuesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer — the Senate moved quickly to pass a measure that would lift a ban on contributions by developers and other real estate interests to Prince George’s County executives when they have a development proposal before the county government.

Pinsky, arguably the legislature’s strongest proponent of political reform, hated the bill, and blocked it last year when it came before his committee.

The restriction on developer contributions had been in effect since 2012 and was enacted in the wake of the bribery scandal surrounding former Prince George’s County executive Jack Johnson (D). Johnson’s successor, Rushern L. Baker III (D), embraced the reform as a way to show the county had moved on from its pay-to-play reputation.

But the proponents of the bill to lift the restriction, which was introduced by House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), noted that Baker’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018 was hampered by the fact that he did not have a robust war chest — and argued that if he had been allowed to accept real estate industry donations, he might have been a more competitive candidate.

After staying out of the fray last year, Prince George’s current county executive, Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), promoted the legislation, casting it as an equity issue and questioning why officeholders in majority-black Prince George’s shouldn’t enjoy the same ability to collect money from developers that their counterparts in other jurisdictions do? (Majority-white Frederick County adopted the same ban a few years after the Prince George’s policy went into effect — legislation modeled after the Prince George’s bill.)

The legislation lifting the ban passed the House 105-23 on Saturday. On Tuesday, it emerged from Pinsky’s committee on a 9-0 vote, with the Education, Health and Environment vice chairwoman, Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), abstaining. On Tuesday afternoon, the bill won preliminary approval in the Senate, and on Tuesday night, it passed 37-7, with Kagan again abstaining.

Lawmakers said Pinsky, despite his objections to the legislation, had promised Alsobrooks earlier in the year that he would allow it to come up for a vote. Whether the results would have been different if Pinsky were present is anybody’s guess.

The bill now heads to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) — whose father was Prince George’s County executive from 1978 to 1982.


Josh Kurtz’s article was published March 18 by Maryland Matters. Also read Tamara Davis Brown’s column on the subject.