County executive candidate Steuart Pittman has solicited donations from developers — even after he attacked development money as creating a “pay for play” atmosphere and proposed banning it with a new law if he is elected.
The Democrat confirmed Friday that he asked Gary Koch — one of the county’s largest residential developers — and others for donations in his bid to beat incumbent Republican Steve Schuh. Koch is a major supporter of Schuh and there are no records showing he made any contributions to the Pittman campaign.
Pittman has criticized the county executive for accepting more than $175,000 in campaign contributions from seven different developers since November 2014, saying Anne Arundel has a history of “pay-to-play deal-making.”
“Of course Gary Koch is working hard to keep me from getting elected. But I’ll talk to Gary Koch and I’ll listen to Gary Koch. I’m not surprised he didn’t contribute to my campaign. His relationship with Schuh is very good,” Pittman said.
“We had a good conversation. It was respectful, thoughtful. I hope he doesn’t think it was a waste of his time to talk to me.”
In his Oct. 11 announcement, Pittman promised that if he is elected, he would pursue legislation in the General Assembly similar to the laws in place in Prince George’s, Frederick and Montgomery counties that would ban developers from donating to campaigns when they have applications pending before the county. Pittman’s ban would also extend to a developer’s attorneys, architects and other agents.
But he said he has accepted money from developers, which is allowed under current laws. Previously, he has said those developers were working in affordable housing projects.
“Is there some reason that I should not be?” he said. “They know where I stand and if they support that they are welcome to join our campaign.”
In his most recent campaign finance filings, Pittman's largest donors are dominated by entrepreneurs and professionals outside the development industry.
Among those who made contributions of $1,000 or more are former County Councilman Jamie Benoit, several area law firms, the retired former head of the Army Corps of Engineers and Jeff Eckel, head of the Hannon Armstrong captial investment firm.
But some real estate interests have chipped in, too. Those that have contributed $1,000 or more include Friend Commercial Real Estate in Millersville, Shelter Development in Baltimore and Guardian Real Estate in Bethesda.
Schuh’s campaign called Pittman’s statements hypocritical.
“Just like Ben Jealous with his ethics reform proposal, Steuart Pittman has shown himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite when it comes to political contributions,” said Megan Miller, Schuh’s campaign spokeswoman. “He is a typical politician who talks out of both sides of his mouth, and should just own up to the fact he has been misleading his supporters.”
Koch said Friday that Pittman called him asking for a campaign donation over the summer. He could not provide the date or specifics about the conversation. He provided the contents of a text message seeking a conversation he said was from Pittman, but did not produce the message itself.
Pittman said he was unaware of Koch’s close relationship with Schuh before calling him.
Koch’s company is the developer of Two Rivers in Odenton. With 2,000 planned homes, it is one of the largest residential projects in county history.
Pittman and other critics have said a 2015 decision to drop the age restrictions on the homes — it was originally marketed as a 55-plus development — put pressure on schools and roads in Crofton, Odenton and Gambrills.
Koch and related businesses have donated $8,400 to Schuh’s campaign throughout his political career.
Koch would be banned from making campaign donations under Pittman's law, but it would need to get passed first, Pittman said. Until then, asking developers who have donated to campaigns previously is the standard.
“Someone like Gary Koch always has applications pending, and we would take them out of the picture. But that has to get passed by the General Assembly. Then that would apply to everybody. There’s never been a candidate for county executive that I know of who hasn’t contacted people who have given in the past,” he said.
“At the start of the race, Steve Schuh had a million dollars in the bank. There’s nothing different about me doing that. If you look at any candidate in the past, they’ve all done it. What’s new is that I’m proposing a legislative fix for it.”