December 23, 2010

Gifted governor doesn’t keep most of the presents he gets

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Gov. Martin O’Malley probably received the top item on his Christmas list this year on Election Day, but constituents and well-wishers from around the globe are sure to be sending holiday gifts toward Government House to fill in the space under the tree.

As governor of Maryland, O’Malley receives hundreds of gifts each year. According to records from the governor’s office, in 2009, he received 196 gifts. No totals are available for 2010 yet, but O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said that many gifts have come in for the governor so far – especially after the election.

State House Christmas tree

The Christmas tree at the State House.

“He certainly gets gifts for the holidays,” Adamec said.

As governor, O’Malley cannot just accept gifts and send thank-you notes. Each gift is logged into a spreadsheet documenting the item, who it is from, the date it was received, and its value. Whether the governor kept the item for his personal use or passed it on to the state is also included on the spreadsheet, which is filed with his annual financial disclosure form at the State Ethics Commission.

O’Malley has a relatively free hand in deciding what to keep for himself and what to give to the state; there is no hard-and-fast rule about what the governor is allowed to keep, Adamec said. However, O’Malley only keeps a few things for himself, Adamec said, and has even been known to return gifts that were too valuable.

The keepers

The gifts O’Malley keeps are usually not the expensive ones. Adamec said that O’Malley tends to keep personalized things, like hats and shirts with his name on them, or awards or plaques specifically for him. He kept 39 gifts for himself in 2009, including 13 shirts and jackets, Steelers “smiley” cookies, a box of strawberries, two bottles of Jameson Irish Whiskey – both straight from Ireland, a Rwandan peace basket from President Clinton, an oversized Irish flag from Galway, and a nail kit from the Maryland Society of Accountants. The only expensive gift that O’Malley used was airfare and hotel accommodations from the ESRI corporation to accept the organization’s president’s award, honoring the state of Maryland for its innovative uses of the company’s geographic information system technology.

The rest of the gifts went back to the state, which means a variety of things, Adamec said. Some of the gifts are donated to charities. Some are kept for use in the governor’s office and at Government House. Some are distributed at receptions and events that O’Malley is holding. It just depends on what the items are, Adamec said.

Artwork, pictures and books often are kept for display and use in the governor’s office and at Government House. Added to the governor’s library in 2009 were “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, “Standing in the Rain: Understanding, Surviving and Thriving in the Worst Financial Storm Since the Great Depression” by Thomas Powell and Bill West, “NAACP 100—Celebrating a Century,” and “Connemara: The Last Pool of Darkness” by Tim Robinson. (O’Malley also received a copy of “Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!” by Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith, which he kept for himself.)

Food and drink

Quite a lot of food and drink is sent to O’Malley, and the governor gives much of it back to the state. Adamec said that it tends to get shared with his staff or people who are attending official events, depending on what is going on when it is received. Among the food items that O’Malley gave to the state in 2009 were chocolate-covered grasshoppers, a five-inch sour cream apple walnut pie, Mary Sue almond bark and peanut brittle, a peck of apples from Catoctin Mountain Orchard, and American whiskey.

Some of the gifts sent to the governor are extremely fancy and expensive, Adamec said. Some of them, like a Tiffany & Co. table and desk clock and a Buckingham Palace decorated china case with a watch inside (from Queen Elizabeth’s deputy treasurer), were passed on to the state.

Others, Adamec said, are often graciously returned with an apology because they are too valuable. Sometimes, these returns aren’t accepted quite as graciously. Adamec recalls some nice stemware that O’Malley tried to return to the giver.

“It was really a battle of, ‘No, please! I insist,’” Adamec said. “Finally, he relented and took it to use in the (governor’s) house.”