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Anne Arundel County Executive Pittman seeks campaign finance law barring donations during development process

Anne Arundel County Executive Pittman seeks campaign finance law barring donations during development process
County Executive Steuart Pittman has requested state legislation that would bar developers and their agents from giving directly to politicians while they have applications before the government. (Joshua McKerrow / Capital Gazette file)

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman has requested state legislation that would bar developers and their agents from giving directly to politicians while they have applications before the government.

The bill is part of a promise that Pittman made during his campaign against former county executive Steve Schuh. At the time of that promise, Pittman had received donations from developers and their agents, though not at the same rate as Schuh.

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Pittman said he was following the law as written at the time and now plans to change it. Lawmakers have filed Senate Bill 710 and House Bill 993 to meet the county executive’s request.

“There is a lot of skepticism how land-use decisions are made,” Pittman said. “By addressing it through campaign finance, it will protect the developers and the politicians from badly induced decisions.”

Essentially, the legislation would not allow developers and their agents to donate money to politicians while applications are before the government. This includes developer company money and independent expenditures from developers themselves. It also bars politicians from voting on legislation related to those developments — such as zoning changes — if they received donations from related parties 48 months prior.

Development applications will require an affidavit in which the developer discloses donations to candidates. If passed, the county’s Ethics Commission would serve as the enforcement body and take complaints on potential violations.

The bill is similar to legislation within Prince George’s County, though that county bars votes if donations were made within a three-year period. As that legislation was going through the General Assembly in 1992, opponents criticized it for having too many loopholes, according to The Washington Post. Since then, some of those loopholes have been closed — such as candidates running as slates.

Now the Prince George’s County delegation is considering rolling back some of those restrictions. Then-County Executive Rushern L. Baker III struggled to raise funds during his 2018 campaign for governor, The Post reported.

Del. Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, said he supports the concept, but is concerned about the legislation’s constitutionality. He also believes it has too many loopholes to be effective.

“I don’t know if it will actually achieve the goals of the legislation,” Kipke said. “I’m not so sure how well it works (in Prince George’s County). There are many ways someone who wants to influence an election … achieve their goal and get around this bill.”

Pittman and his administration team believe the bill passes both constitutional and efficiency tests.

The Anne Arundel County delegation will hold a hearing on Pittman’s legislation Feb. 15. If the bill passes through the delegation, it will then go through the traditional bill passage process.

It would be considered a local bill for Anne Arundel County, but the topic of campaign finance could mean the bill would be scrutinized by other lawmakers. Often local bills sail through the traditional bill process as lawmakers defer to the delegation’s vote.

Development was a key issue during the 2018 election between Pittman and Schuh. Pittman promised residents he would move away from the “pro-growth” strategy in the county. After his defeat, Schuh said Pittman would run into the realities of landownership and zoning.

The most significant impact Pittman, the council and residents can have on the future of development is within the county’s General Development Plan. This plan serves as the guiding document for building within the county. It identifies sites for redevelopment, areas that need more development and places to limit development.

County officials are in the process of drafting that plan. It will go before the council at the end of the year.

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