As he runs for governor, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has hosted politically influential guests — including lobbyists, campaign contributors and union leaders — in the state's skybox at the Redskins' stadium, records show.
Brown's guests during the 2012 and 2013 football seasons have included well-connected lobbyists Earl Adams Jr. and Major F. Riddick Jr., pastors from significant Prince George's County churches and the supervisor of a state trooper who issued a report criticizing the behavior of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a rival in the governor's race.
Government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland — which has been critical of how the state's top politicians use stadium boxes — renewed its call for more tickets to go to community volunteers, advocates for children and others without much political influence.
"We absolutely would like it to be transformed to reward community leaders instead of politically connected people," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the organization's director. "There's nothing illegal or nefarious about giving the tickets to politically connected people, but this could be a way to help kids, making it more meaningful than a political tool."
Records about the skybox — released to The Baltimore Sun in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request — also show that during the 2012 season, Brown charged $5,600 to the taxpayers for food and drink for him and his guests over 10 home games. In the first three games of 2013, Brown's party spent $3,000 on concessions, including $1,400 during Washington's Sept. 9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Officials have said there is no formal policy that determines which people should be invited to stadium suites. Brown's office has said he uses the state's box at FedEx Field in Landover as a way to "maintain and foster relationships."
While Gov. Martin O'Malley typically plays host in the state's box at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, he has delegated to Brown use of the box at the Redskins' stadium, officials have said. Brown is from Prince George's County.
Ethics rules prohibit politicians from accepting sporting tickets as gifts from those who do business with the state, but they say nothing about politicians distributing such tickets. Common Cause has previously called on the administration to establish a written policy for choosing guests.
Asked about his use of the box, Brown issued a statement saying that if elected governor, he planned to make the tickets more widely available.
"Under a Brown-Ulman administration, we will make the state's tickets to sporting and other events available to a wide audience by establishing a more formal process to distribute these tickets to community-based non-profits and state government employees who demonstrate outstanding service," Brown said in the statement. "These events bring our communities together and it's important for us to include as many of our fellow Marylanders as possible." His office said he has not attended a game so far this season.
Emails released by the lieutenant governor's office show people sometimes request tickets to the box — including politicians such as Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks — but Brown's office also invites selected guests.
Brown frequently invites his staff and high-ranking Democrats to the box, including first lady Katie O'Malley, Secretary of State John P. McDonough and Rep. Donna Edwards, who has called for the Redskins to change their name.
Some of Brown's guests in the past year have been lobbyists and campaign donors. For instance, Riddick, a former chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, attended the Dec. 30, 2012 game against the Dallas Cowboys.
"Major said he is not trying to be greedy, but if you have a parking pass it would be great," Riddick's aide wrote in an email to Brown's staff after obtaining two tickets to the game.
Riddick, now a lobbyist, has along with his wife contributed almost $35,000 to candidates since 2005. O'Malley has received $3,800 and Brown $2,350, but Riddick also gave $250 to Gansler in 2007. Five businesses Riddick represents before state government have also contributed since 2005. One, Gantech, has given $23,770, $1,000 of which went to Brown during the current election cycle.
Another stadium guest was Bruce Plaxen, chairman of the state trial lawyers' political action committee. Plaxen, who received three tickets to watch Washington defeat the Ravens last year, is a significant contributor in his own right, having given almost $10,000 since 2005, $2,500 of it toward the re-election of the O'Malley-Brown ticket in 2010. More important, though, is his role in helping direct the PAC's contributions of more than $66,000 since 2010. Brown has received at least $7,000 of that money, $1,000 toward the current race.
Plaxen, a Columbia lawyer, said he recalls being invited to the Washington-Baltimore game at FedEx last December by the governor's office, though he doesn't recall who approached whom. He has also been a guest at the Ravens stadium.
When people are invited to either box, Plaxen said, his experience is that politics is seldom discussed and fundraising never is. "It seems more like a social outing than one of political privilege," he said.
With some guests, the lines between lobbying and personal friendship are blurry. For instance, Adams is a registered lobbyist with the politically active firm of DLA Piper. He was also Brown's chief of staff for more than three years.
Bevan-Dangel — herself a registered lobbyist on government accountability issues — said the choices of whom to invite are telling of a politician's priorities.
"It shows the influence and access these lobbyists and therefore their clients have," she said. "It's not illegal, but what's the message that's being sent to the public about who really matters?"
Brown also has reserved seats for Prince George's County pastors and union leaders from the Washington area.
Pastors Harry L. Seawright of Union Bethel African Methodist Episcopal; Church in Brandywine, Jonathan L. Weaver Greater of Mount Nebo AME in Bowie, and Grainger Browning of Ebenezer AME in Fort Washington attended the Aug. 29, 2012, game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Union leaders are also well represented: R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; Joslyn N. Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO; and Vance Ayres, executive secretary of the Washington DC Building Trades Council, all attended games recently.
Brown's office invited William M. Pallozzi, a Maryland State Police supervisor, to the Aug. 19 game this year.
Pallozzi's subordinate, Lt. Charles Ardolini of the executive protection unit, was the author of a December 2011 memo to Pallozzi accusing Gansler of routinely telling his state police drivers to speed and run red lights. The comments were reported last month in The Washington Post. Gansler fired back, calling Ardolini a "henchman" of O'Malley and Brown.
The state police then issued a statement criticizing Gansler's comments. In the release, Pallozzi defended the agency as "completely unattached and unaffiliated with any political party, cause or candidate."
A Republican candidate for governor, Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County, said he believes the state's boxes are being used to reward people who have supported the administration. "I would like to use it for things like a Boys' or Girls' club." George said.
Gansler, too, said he believed the box would be best used by inviting community groups.
"Doug Gansler believes these boxes also provide an opportunity to bring children and families who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend a game," said Bob Wheelock, Gansler's campaign spokesman.
Though the Redskins' stadium is privately owned, the team has an agreement with the state providing the free skybox and parking to the governor's office. At the Ravens stadium in Baltimore — built with $200 million in public financing — the Maryland Stadium Authority provides suites to the governor and mayor under a lease agreement that also stipulates that concessions are to be sold to their guests at cost.
Johns Hopkins University political science professor Matthew Crenson said he sees the invitations to Brown's box as "pretty innocuous."
"In a way, I think this is a good arrangement," he said. "It means he can reward people without distorting public policy."