Like Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Gov. Martin O’Malley has surrounded himself with top Democrats in his skybox at Ravens stadium over the past year. But the governor also has displayed a penchant for entertaining television stars — mixing business interests, politicians and celebrities while eating at taxpayer expense.
For instance, “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey was among those at the Sept. 23 game against New England Patriots. Other guests included a top aide to Democrat Ken Ulman, the lieutenant governor candidate; a Sodexo Corp. executive; Rick Abbruzzese, a former O’Malley aide who’s now a lobbyist; and Del. Jon Cardin, who’s running for attorney general.
In the past year, O’Malley hosted the cast of the HBO show “Veep”; Del. Jolene Ivey, the future running mate of gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler; House Speaker Michael Busch; and the mayor of Trenton, N.J. O’Malley dedicated one game to veterans, inviting U.S. military members and the families of deployed soldiers, records show.
O’Malley’s group spent $3,400 on food and drink over nine games during the 2012 season and $400 at one game this year, according to documents and emails provided to The Baltimore Sun in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request.
O’Malley is one of two politicians with access to plum suites at M&T Bank Stadium. The other, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has instituted guidelines that ask staff to reserve two tickets to each game for community members, including a game dedicated almost entirely to the YouthWorks summer jobs campaign. Rawlings-Blake still mainly invites friends, family, staff, politicians and union leaders to the games, records show. They have spent about $4,600 on food and drink since the 2012 season, according to the documents.
Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group, has called on public officials to create policies to ensure the boxes are used to benefit the community not as a political tool.
“The mayor does see this as a box that belongs to the people of Baltimore,” said her spokesman, Kevin Harris. “The system she developed challenges her staff to try to highlight people who are doing good things in the city.”
Harris said the mayor instituted new goals more than a year ago. “This was always her desire, but it wasn’t happening as effectively as she thought it should happen,” he said.
While Brown’s guests spent $5,600 — which is more than O’Malley’s and Rawlings-Blake’s due to higher costs for food — his administration did balk at an effort by the Redskins to increase taxpayer costs last year. The football team attempted to charge Brown and his guests more than $20,000 to attend the team’s Jan. 7 game against the Seattle Seahawks, the franchise’s first playoff game since 2007.
“It struck me as strange that they’d invoice us for the playoff since we’ve gotten the box for other events,” O’Malley’s former chief of staff Matt Gallagher wrote in an email to a Brown aide. “While we don’t own the stadium, I know the state was involved in some of the related infrastructure.”
In the end, top state officials were forced to watch the Redskins playoffs from home — or find another way to the game.