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The way to O'Malley's heart: the DGA [Commentary]

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Certain elements of the liberal intelligentsia believe that because Maryland is a "well run state" that provides such an exhaustive and expansive number of government services to taxpayers that our government is also well run. In a well run government, decisions would be made based on sound policy and considerations about what's in the best interest of the taxpayers, not personal relationships and campaign contributions. But one-party Maryland gives us constant reason to suspect it's the latter.

The top lobbying ranks in Annapolis are a who's who of former staffers to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, with some ex-aides to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Gov. Martin O'Malley thrown in. Last year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presided over the Las Vegas wedding of the two biggest lobbyists in City Hall. And last month, Red Maryland's Mark Newgent introduced you to KO Public Affairs, which has significant ties to the Democratic establishment and describes itself as a "strategic communications firm that helps clients win where business, government, politics and media meet." Unfortunately, that's all merely the tip of the iceberg here in Maryland.

Research by the conservative activist group Change Maryland has indicated that a disturbing pattern emerged while Governor Martin O'Malley served as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. (Disclaimer: the editors of Red Maryland have endorsed Change Maryland's founder, Larry Hogan, for governor in the Republican primary.)

According to Change Maryland's research, contractors and companies that had business with the Maryland state government donated $5.7 million to the Democratic Governor's Association and received $4.4 billion in state contracts during Governor O'Malley's term as chairman.

Some of these contributions included:

•United Healthcare Services: During Mr. O'Malley's time as chairman, United Healthcare gave more than $650,000 to the DGA — about 63 percent more than it contributed to the group during the previous two years. In fiscal 2013, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene paid United Healthcare $640 million. And the company hired to help fix the Maryland Health Exchange in a no-bid contract is a subsidiary of United Healthcare, which in turn stands to gain if the state's troubled website is ever fixed.

•MEDCO: Prescription company MEDCO made $225,000 in donations to the DGA during a time in which the company it was merging with, Express Scripts, received a multi-billion prescription contract from the state despite numerous legal troubles Express Scripts had several years earlier in nearly 30 states, including Maryland, which accused the business of inflating prices.

•Scientific Games International: This company donated over $125,000 to the DGA during the time period in which the Governor O'Malley-led Board of Public Works renewed their contract with the Maryland Lottery.

•Beowulf Energy: Beowulf and related companies gave $70,000 to the DGA. During this period, a wholly owned affiliate of the company was the sole bidder for a lease deal to build a solar energy plant on state land, and Beowulf emerged as one of the companies interested in helping to fulfill and build Governor O'Malley's signature offshore energy scheme. Michael Enright, O'Malley's former chief of staff, just happens to be Beowulf's managing director.

The full Change Maryland report is available here.

The pattern is a disturbing one, but sadly not a new one. Nearly two years ago, Common Cause brought up similar concerns after The Sun reported on donations to the DGA by companies seeking to do business with the state. Yet the activity continued unabated.

To the untrained eye, it would appear that the companies in question made donations to the DGA under Governor O'Malley's watch in an effort to shield their support for him. Under current state law, companies who have business before the state of Maryland as a contractor are subject to additional reporting requirements if they donate to state elected officials. Even if each company were not subject to these requirements, they could only donate $4,000 to Governor O'Malley's and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown's state campaign accounts.

There are no laws, however, regulating donations by state contractors to federal campaign accounts that are affiliated with state elected officials. The companies could have made their donations to Mr. O'Malley's "O' Say Can You See" political action committee, which he is using for federal activities as he ponders a run for president in 2016. But donations to the Democratic Governors Association allowed Mr. O'Malley more political flexibility. They allowed Governor O'Malley to travel, often to key presidential primary states, on behalf of gubernatorial candidates as well as to provide support to governors and gubernatorial candidates whose favor Mr. O'Malley would be courting during his presidential campaign.

Very quickly, one can see how the appearance of impropriety takes shape. The unfortunate thing for Maryland taxpayers is that we really don't know whether or not the companies received these contracts based on the content of their proposals or based on the financial support of Governor O'Malley's political wing.

Cronyism such as this highlights the danger of the Democratic Party holding a nearly unchecked monopoly on the state budget for over 50 years. Without an able opposition party to combat such activities, the taxpayers are going to continue to get taken for a ride by opportunistic politicians focused on trying to get their next gig.

Brian Griffiths is a frequent contributor to Red Maryland, a conservative radio network and blog whose content appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com. His email is brian@briangriffiths.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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