By Glynis Kazanjian
Calls for an ethics probe into Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola’s campaign contributions from State House lobbyists by 6th District primary challenger John Delaney will likely go unanswered unless a formal complaint is filed, according to Legislative Ethics Committee Counsel William Somerville.
“While reasonable people can see a conflict of interest, and Lord knows that it’s one of the situations that causes concern on all levels of government – the influence of campaign contributions – it is not something that the Maryland Ethics Law restricts in any way,” Somerville said in an interview. “There’s never been a legal presumption of conflict of interest based on received campaign contributions.”
Delaney, who faces Garagiola in the 6th Congressional District primary election April 3, has repeatedly called out Garagiola for his alleged ties to lobbyists, citing numerous campaign contributions and employment as a lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig. But, the Delaney campaign has stopped short of filing a complaint.
But Delaney is not without his own ties to major Washington lobbyists. Next week, six partners at Patton Boggs, perhaps D.C.’s largest lobbying firm, with $48 million in lobbying revenues last year, will host a breakfast fundraiser for Delaney at the firm’s M Street offices, with contributions starting at $500.
$75,000 from federal and state lobbyists
Garagiola’s 2011 4th quarter campaign finance report shows that 33% of individual contributions came from lobbyists or individuals directly affiliated with lobbying firms, accounting for approximately $75,000 of $225,000 raised. Some lobby Congress but a number of contributors lobby the Maryland General Assembly and have historically contributed to Garagiola’s legislative campaigns.
An additional $88,000 was raised through political action committees, where some cross over was seen from lobbyists on the individual contributors list. And some contributors, like Exelon, Constellation Energy and Sun Edison are companies intimately involved with decisions that will be made this legislative session by the Senate Finance Committee on which Garagiola serves.
Among the contributions from registered lobbyists or people who work at lobbying firms was: $4,500 from nine employees of Alexander & Cleaver; $4,500 from eight employees at Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver; $3,000 from three principals at Capitol Strategies; and smaller contributions of $250 and up from a number of other Annapolis lobbyists. There was also $12,500 in contributions from William Rickman, the owner of Ocean Downs raceway and casino, and his family. The legislature deals with dozens of bills related to racetracks and gambling.
Delaney camp cites loophole, conflicts
“Garagiola is exploiting a loophole in the law by directing funds to his congressional account from lobbyists who have a direct interest in influencing his legislative voice,” said Delaney campaign spokesman Max Cummings. “At the very least, Garagiola’s special interest contributions have violated protections against the appearance of impropriety. We encourage the Ethics Committee to investigate his fundraising activities during legislative session.”
According to the conflict of interest provisions in the Legislative Ethics Guidelines, legislators “are expected to look at their business and personal interests from the perspective of the general public to determine if anything presents the appearance of a conflict of interest.” If there is even the appearance of conflict of interest, legislators are instructed to address it, the guidelines state.
Remedies include filing a disclaimer for the relationship that may be considered a conflict of interest or recusal from certain votes, which Delaney has called for. Somerville said legislators are actively filing disclaimer forms this session.
The ethics code also references as conflict of interest a legislator “benefiting financially from a close economic association with a person (including a lobbyist or a business that has employed a lobbyist) who has a direct interest in an enterprise or interest that would be affected by proposed legislation in a manner different from other like enterprises or interests.”
But Somerville said the current interpretation of the Ethics Law by the Joint Committee of Legislative Ethics is that lobbyist contributions have not historically been regarded as a conflict of interest and initiating an inquiry would be inconsistent with a long standing precedent.
Any complaints against Garagiola or any other legislator are handled confidentially, Somerville said, but complaintants are free to discuss them.
Garagiola campaign fires back
Garagiola spokesman Sean Rankin says Garagiola has upheld the law and operated appropriately.
“Maryland State Law specifically states that candidates for federal office who are Maryland office-holders are allowed to raise money during session,” Rankin said. “Our campaign is acting ethically and according to the regulations. Election Day for the Democratic Primary just happens to occur at the same time as the session, and we had no power or influence over the setting of either of those dates.”
Rankin also called Delaney a hypocrite, citing the Feb. 29 Delaney fundraiser hosted by D.C. power lobbyist Patton Boggs.
“If John Delaney really believes that lobbyists are ruining our country, as he has stated on many occasions in this campaign, then why did he accept an event at Patton Boggs, the most prominent lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.?,” Rankin asked.
“He attacks Rob and then tries to get away with doing the same thing. He’s a hypocrite and the real insider in the race: an insider who avoided answering why he contributed to Andy Harris by pointing out the millions of dollars he has bundled for campaigns! What does John Delaney think he is getting by raising all that money? John Delaney is an insider’s insider, not a newcomer to politics, and a hypocrite.”
Campaign manager Max Cumming shot back: “The same week that Garagiola supported the censuring of State Senator Currie for failing to disclose a personal relationship with a contributor, Garagiola should come clean about the relationship between lobbyist funds to his congressional campaign and his legislative interests.”
“As an elected official, Rob Garagiola has an obligation to either recuse himself from a vote or to disclose how he took advantage of legislative position to raise money for his congressional campaign.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find financial data on Delaney, but his political opinions do not impress me. The last thing America needs is another pro-war politician.
Concerning Garagiola, according to opensecrets.org, he has lobby money from big pharma. That’s a problem. He also has some money from the oil and gas industry.
It’s unethical, even if the law gives a pass on conflicts of interests. I recommend treating candidates the same way as deciding between a mom-and-pop store and a Wal-Mart.
Personally, I do not expect much from Congress. The Republicans are crazy with their racism and religious nuttiness in addition to being for narrow economic interests and endless war, the Democrats are 1970s Republicans (in favor of endless war and narrow economic interests), and even if a Green manages to get in, the group dynamics will be too unfavorable to get anywhere. The only hope to achieve anything at the federal level is if the electoral system (ballot access, instant runoff voting to make room for more than two candidates…) were fairer towards non-corporate and third party candidates to improve legislative group dynamics, and if the people could have a true say in the laws that affect their lives (BUT in order for that to work, a project to make Americans more politically mature will be needed).
If people are disgusted by lobby money, look at the green party, they usually have good candidates (not all, but quite a few), and their party rules forbid having corporate contributions.
More sanity exists in county councils, municipalities and State assemblies, look at those. I for one, am more willing to cultivate relationships with councilpeople and delegates on some issues so that they can feel comfortable working with a green party politician chock-full of creative ideas.
While I understand Garagiola’s “rumored relationship with :Hannah Powers” is unsubstantiated, don’t you think it would undermine the integrity of the legislative process if a Senator (hoping to join the ranks of Congress) were actually taking money from someone with whom they were romantically involved? Although that type of behavior has become more accepted custom in Annapolis and Capitol Hill, can’t we do better than send another person to Washington who is watching out for their own needs, rather than being an advocate for their constituents? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not overly enamored with John Delaney either, but I sure don’t want someone representing me in Congress who cuts corners on his personal commitments as it means they won’t hesitate to compromise me either.
The question of what lobbyists are giving to what candidates is a red herring. Delaney is trying to get the press to look at what Garagiola’s relationship to lobbyist Hannah Powers is and whether he is spending taxpayer money on his rumored relationship with her.
There’s no story here. Everyone accepts money from lobbyists. It’s a fact of life. The fact that Delaney is hitting Garagiola on this just shows how shallow his argument is and how desperate his campaign has become.
I’d be very surprised to find that Delaney has accepted no lobbyist money. Oh wait, maybe not, as he is being bankrolled by a Wall Street shark, mega millionaire, and a business executive; himself. Who knew Mitt Romney would be running for a congressional seat in MD?
Politicians (Democrats included, but mostly outsiders) like to throw around the term “lobbyist” as if a felon just stepped into the building. Lobbyists often happen to be some of the most educated experts in their respective field. One of the lobbyists pictured about has worked to advance public health issues for years. There have been no laws broken, so I’m pretty confident in my continued support for Rob, and my continued skepticism towards Delaney.
I’m a Democrat voting for Bartlett.
I’m with OHmd on this one. Delaney’s comments borders on absolute hypocrisy given his own donation to Tea Partier Andy Harris. How can one accuse another as well meaning as Rob Garagiola after so blatantly crossing an ethical line like that?
You know what, Mr. Delaney? You betrayed your party. Frank Kratovil did nothing to you. He did nothing to this party save push us to do better. To further develop our own ideas when encountering opposing arguments, and to support the people of Maryland and of the United States. And you helped Andy Harris defeat him. That, sir, was bush league, and it was wrong.
I suppose people really do act irrationally and childishly when they’re desperate and know that they’re just about finished…
Surprised Delaney is going to Patton Boggs to raise money..given he’s a gazillionaire. I think that stunt shoots a hole in his credibility. And as for Garagiola, well can’t argue with facts, but why are all these people getting behind him? Don’t think Hoyer would be backing a bad guy, his record is pretty above reproach.
This screams of desperation by the Delaney camp. State Senator Garagiola has broken no laws or ethics policies in regards to his fundraising. It’s the essence of hypocrisy for Delaney to criticize where Garagiola raises funds, while at the same time planning a fundraiser with the Patton Boggs “K Street” crowd. I predict we are starting to see the beginning of the end as far as his campaign is concerned.
It’s rather comical actually. interesting move by the Delaney camp to attack Garagiola for doing exactly what he’s doing. Everything he’s doing is completely kosher, and it’s a bad move by Delaney to pick this fight. Guess he thinks he has no better options?