The banana republic of Maryland [Commentary]

One-party rule breeds cronyism. While Maryland's one-party Democratic rulers, like Gov. Martin O'Malley, fancy themselves progressive angels above such things, the fact is, Maryland has devolved into an oligarchy.

Exhibit A: KO Public Affairs, the consulting firm run by Steve Kearney, Governor O'Malley's former communications director, and Damian O'Doherty, who was a top aide to former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, who is now the state's transportation secretary.

O'Doherty is a Maryland Democratic Party Trustee — a high dollar donor program for the party. At the New Hampshire Democratic Party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner, where Governor O'Malley spoke, the state party chair there thanked Messrs. Kearney and O'Doherty for their efforts in organizing the dinner.

KO is the poster child for Maryland Democratic crony capitalism. Their business model relies on getting their friends in government to take more dollars from taxpayers to give to their corporate clients.

To borrow a phrase from Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, they are the vampire squid of Maryland politics.

Michael Beatty, developer of the controversial Harbor Point project hired KO to help assist in the approval of $107 million in city subsidies for his project. Beware the politician, who dares oppose KO, as Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes found out after opposing the subsidy. According to Baltimore Brew, Mr. Kearney told Stokes that he was "going after" the councilman in his next election campaign.

Harbor Point isn't the only taxpayer-funded, controversial project in which KO is involved. The firm served as consultants to the politically connected developers of the stalled State Center development, a $127-million taxpayer funded office project championed by Governor O'Malley and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. A city circuit court judge found the O'Malley administration violated state procurement laws in selecting the developers.

KO executives were co-founders of the website Center Maryland, which purports to provide "news straight down the middle." In fact, Center Maryland is merely an aggregator site with opinion pieces by regular columnists like Don Fry, head of the Greater Baltimore Committee. Mr. Fry and the GBC were backers of the recent increase in the state's gas tax. Of course, Center Maryland did not disclose that KO led the "Broad Stripes Bright Stars" coalition to push for Governor O'Malley's gas tax increase.

KO was also a major player in the push to expand gambling in Maryland. During the 2012 special legislative session on expanded gambling, they blurred the line between being an advocacy firm and a media outlet. A KO employee was photographed on the floor of the Senate wearing a Center Maryland media credential during debate on the gambling expansion bill. KO was representing the interests of MGM Resorts, which is looking to build a casino at National Harbor. According to state campaign finance records KO received more than $400,000 from casino interests to advocate passage of the ballot question approving expanded gambling in last year's election.

Center Maryland also features a video podcast, "Politics Inside Out," hosted by Mr. O'Doherty and lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones, a close friend of Mayor Rawlings-Blake. Ms. Harris Jones is a principal in the lobbying firm of Harris Jones-Malone, with her husband Sean Malone. Mr. Malone is another former O'Malley aide from his time as Baltimore mayor and governor. State lobbying reports show Mr. Malone registered to lobby Maryland government on Mr. Kearney's behalf. Mr. Fry's GBC has also hired Ms. Harris Jones and Mr. Malone to lobby as well.

Marylanders can also thank the KO-Harris Jones-Malone crew for the state's speed camera boondoggle. Lobbying reports show ACS State and Local Solutions, now Xerox State and Local Solutions, paid both Ms. Harris Jones and Mr. Malone to lobby the General Assembly for speed cameras in 2009, the year the legislature approved the system. In Baltimore County, KO helped create a supposed citizens organization to give the impression that residents wanted an expansion of the county's speed camera program.

These kinds of connections are rarely reported on, let alone condemned by, major media in the state.

It is no wonder Governor O'Malley could look at WBAL TV investigative reporter Jayne Miller with a straight face and tell her that the influx of campaign contributions he received from developers, contractors and unions involved in the construction of the Baltimore Hilton had nothing to do with his decision that union workers would build the hotel or what firms would be involved with the hotel.

Welcome to the banana republic of Maryland.

Mark Newgent is a frequent contributor to Red Maryland, a conservative radio network and blog whose content appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun and on His email

Clarification: The original version of this article was clarified to state that Sean Malone had registered as a lobbyist on Steve Kearney's behalf. The descriptions of KO's relationships with MGM Resorts and Center Maryland were also clarified. KO represented MGM’s business partner in the proposed development of a casino in Prince George’s County and a ballot committee funded mainly by MGM, but the firm did not work for MGM directly. Center Maryland was not founded solely by KO staffers but included some outside partners. 

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