By Len Lazarick
The top campaign contributors to Gov. Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot for last year’s election were “business interests and fat cats,” according to a detailed analysis by the Maryland Tax Education Foundation released Wednesday.
The foundation analyzed raw Excel data from the State Board of Elections and associated the funding sources by analyzing street addresses and relationships. The foundation combined donations by spouses, relatives and commonly owned companies, which are allowed to contribute to campaigns under Maryland law.
Using that combined data showed the top contributors to the O’Malley-Brown reelection bid were businessman William Rickman ($71,250), owner of the Oceans Downs race track and slots casino, and commercial real estate developer Edward St. John ($67,250). Almost 80% of the total $14.2 million to the campaign of the incumbent Democratic governor came in donations of $1,000 or more, and one third were $4,000 or more.
Under Maryland law, an individual can contribute up to $4,000 for the primary and $4,000 for the general election, but individuals with controlling interests in multiple corporations can easily exceed those limits.
Individuals contributing the maximum to O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown could give $16,000 during the election cycle. Scores of people gave that amount or more. Other major contributors to O’Malley Brown were real estate developer Stephen Stavrou ($42,000) and the Maryland Jockey Club ($40,820), the racetrack owner.
“When you give $70,000 to a governor candidate, are you expecting something in return?” asked Jeff Hooke, chairman of the foundation. “Are they just in love with Maryland’s system of government?”
Hooke, “I had to hire a couple of programmers” to massage the data. “It’s tough if you don’t have programmers.”
“All those donations should be cross checked” against waivers, zoning changes, contracts and favorable actions by the government, Hooke said.
Franchot’s campaign raised $1.9 million, with 65% in donations of $1,000 or more. The top contributors were West Group ($54,125), an out-of-state real estate firm, and film producer James Robinson ($37,000) with combined family contributions of $52,750. Edward St. John and his companies gave Franchot $30,100.
The full analysis of the O’Malley contributions and the Franchot contributions can be found on the foundation website, along with Excel spreadsheets.
Objective data analysis and sunshine shed on any election campaign or political candidate are welcome and in the public interest.. Yet is the author, MTEF, objective and neutral? Does MTEF have a particular agenda here? The self-description of this independent research nonprofit suggests it is nonpartisan. But one of its five board members is or was the chair of the Montgomery County GOP. Another is a listed expert on the conservative Calvert Institute that weighs in on MD policy issues. Two others are owners and principals in a for-profit firm that researches and consults on gaming, mergers and other “fat-cat” business concerns. This appears to be a conflict of interest and there is very light disclosure. Despite the author and study being keen on sunshine for elected MD officials. I see the possiility of a for-profit firm pushing its message through an “independent” nonprofit it controls. I do not see a firewall nor independence nor do I see an arms-length distance. It doesn’t pass the smell test in my view.