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O'Malley invites politicians, Cabinet, family to Ravens skybox

Governor uses Orioles games more for charities

By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

12:01 AM EDT, March 16, 2012

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Gov. Martin O'Malley's guests in the state's private skybox at Ravens games this past season included key politicians, campaign donors, and the family and friends of government officials, records show.

It's a mix of people designed to forge political alliances and bolster economic growth, but also to allow the Democratic governor a chance to spend more time with those close to him, said Rick Abbruzzese, O'Malley's director of public affairs.

O'Malley uses his box at the Orioles' stadium in a different manner, the records show. Tickets for nearly 40 percent of those games were given to charities, schools, hospitals and nonprofit institutions last season.

Names on the Ravens skybox list include lawyer Bruce Plaxen, an O'Malley campaign contributor; Michael Enright, O'Malley's childhood friend and close ally; and a number of Democratic legislators. House Speaker Michael E. Busch attended the Dec. 11 Colts game in the governor's box, but Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller is not listed on records of attendees.

The lack of an invitation isn't a slight to Miller, Abbruzzese said, adding, "I think he's more of a Redskins fan."

The Orioles' 81-game home schedule makes it easier to include charitable institutions, Abbruzzese said, while noting that the governor did invite military personnel to one Ravens game. Still, the majority of those invited to M&T Bank Stadium for football games have strong ties to Democratic politics.

"With the Ravens box, we haven't had as much opportunity to [provide tickets to charities] because it is only an eight-game season," Abbruzzese said.

Susan Wichmann, the executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said the boxes shouldn't just be used as a perk for politicians and their families. She said the large number of politicians on the list of attendees shows the Ravens box "is being used as a political tool."

"The governor has ample time to talk to politicians," she said. "We're not saying politicians shouldn't be invited. We think it should be used more equitably."

Common Cause called on O'Malley to create a written policy governing how tickets are distributed for the boxes.

"We call on the governor, as well as [Baltimore Stephanie Rawlings-Blake], to have a written, delineated policy so it can't be used as a tool for political favoritism," Wichmann said. "It's a leadership choice they make to turn it into something highly partisan and political."

The Baltimore Sun requested the list of skybox attendees and related documents after Rawlings-Blake's use of her mayoral skybox was thrust into the spotlight. She rescinded an offer of tickets to City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young for the Jan. 11 playoff game against the Houston Texans. The move came after Young publicly criticized her efforts to plan another Grand Prix IndyCar race.

Rawlings-Blake has not released figures documenting how much public money her guests spent on food and drinks at the games.

O'Malley has no formal process for choosing whom to invite to his box, which is provided to the governor under the lease agreement for the stadium, but he uses it to promote "economic development, federal relations, legislative outreach," Abbruzzese said.

Distributing tickets to the luxury box, the spokesman added, is "one of the responsibilities of office, and we take it seriously. There are occasions where family and friends do end up in the box."

Last season, the Ravens played 11 home games, including two in the preseason and one in the playoffs. At nine home games, attendees in the governor's box spent $2,348.90 of public money on food and drinks. Abbruzzese said the state picks up the tab for food and beverages only if O'Malley is present, and he did not attend two of the games.

The most the group spent at a game was $433.90; the least was $34.42, the governor's office said. The stadium provides the food for O'Malley's guests "at cost," rather than the higher prices charged to regular customers.

"We try to be responsible and not overdo it," Abbruzzese said of eating habits in the box.

Among those present at Ravens games were lawmakers such as Baltimore Dels. Maggie L. McIntosh, Keiffer J. Mitchell and Luke Clippinger, all Democrats.

McIntosh said she sometimes asks the governor for tickets; other tickets were unsolicited. She said she's never felt any pressure to vote a certain way as a payback.

"I'm a huge Ravens fan," she said. "On one or two occasions, I brought my mother, who loves the games. I don't see it as a litmus test about the way people vote. I see it as watching the Ravens."

Even so, records show O'Malley generally invites fellow Democrats and their relatives and backers.

For instance, at the Nov. 20 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mitchell and Clippinger were joined by Council President Young; first lady Katie O'Malley; David Dixon, an O'Malley campaign strategist; O'Malley's chief legislative officer, Joe Bryce; Teddy Downey, the stepson of Carol Browner, the former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy; and Lonnie Robbins, the chief administrative officer for Howard County.

Mitchell said he took his daughter to the game, and she appreciated the opportunity to meet the governor. He remembers the game well because Katie O'Malley scolded him for spilling popcorn and not picking it up. But Mitchell was quick to divert the blame from himself, he said.

"I blamed it on Jack," Mitchell said, referring to Young.

Only one Republican lawmaker, Sen. Richard F. Colburn of the Eastern Shore, was a guest at a Ravens game last season. He declined to be interviewed.

"We work with him on issues with the Eastern Shore," Abbruzzese said. "It's proof it's bipartisan."

The Ravens tickets are in demand, with the governor's office receiving dozens of emails inquiring about getting them, documents show.

Once, when former Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. asked about getting access to a box for charity, he was rebuffed.

"Given the limited number of tickets and the high demand, we've only donated tickets for charity twice over the last four years," wrote Matthew Gallagher, O'Malley's chief of staff, in an April 6 email to Smith.

"The Steelers tickers are usually in particularly high demand given the number of O'Malley family members that make the trip down from Pennsylvania."

In responding to the public information request, the governor's office also included a list of attendees at O'Malley's box at Oriole Park at Camden Yards — as well as a breakdown by category. O'Malley uses that box 37 percent of the time for nonprofits and charities; 36 percent of the time for government relations; and 22 percent of the time for state government uses, such as business outreach and staff appreciation, his office said. Three games were unused last season because of rainouts or time changes.

O'Malley hosted business leaders on Opening Day, Katie O'Malley used the box once and Plaxen's law firm used the box on two occasions. Plaxen says his firm auctioned off the tickets for charity.

The governor invited representatives of the HBO show "Game Change," which was filming in Baltimore, to the April 24 game against the Yankees, and rewarded his staff with tickets to an April game against Boston.

The South Baltimore Learning Center got to see the Royals in May; Healthcare for the Homeless was invited to a Blue Jays game in June.

Abbruzzese said O'Malley has never asked a lawmaker to return a ticket.

"We've never done that, but I'm sure there's something you could do to get you uninvited," he said. "It's to establish personal relationships. It's not a heavy-handed approach."

Mitchell said he has never been asked to return tickets — even when he opposed then-Mayor O'Malley on the budget and financing for the Hilton hotel.

"I was one of the few that voted against the budget on the City Council and I was able to go to a baseball game and didn't get stuck in left field," Mitchell said. "I voted against the hotel and got invited to the Ravens game. There's never been a quid pro quo. Absolutely not."

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