UMMS board members donated to Maryland governor

The recent ethical lapses within the University of Maryland Medical System and its board have been appalling, with much of the focus on former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, state legislation passed to improve board oversight and resignations of certain board members.

Scant attention has been paid, however, to an elephant in the room: Most of the board members were, as required by statute, appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan, with some improperly reappointed beyond the two-term legal limit. And many of them, including several of the 11 newly appointed board members, donated to his campaign as individuals or through affiliated businesses — some in apparent excess of campaign finance limits — for a combined total of over $115,000.

While donors receiving appointments isn’t inherently unlawful, it undermines public confidence, particularly when combined with the fact that some of these donor-appointees, including former state Sen. Frank Kelly Jr., appear to have received generous “insider” contracts from UMMS.

And, despite the governor’s professed outrage over UMMS’ dealings, he recently vetoed an important bill that would improve transparency and strengthen accountability of the Governor’s Appointments Office, whose primary purpose is to vet political appointees to represent Mr. Hogan on boards and commissions and in a small handful of high-level leadership positions in state agencies.

The governor prefers to point the finger at UMMS for its failed internal controls, but he, too, should have known that many of his appointees had business dealings with UMMS. His appointments office requires all appointees to complete a form that probes for conflicts of interest and problematic affiliations.

In examining the governor’s campaign finance records, publicly available from the State Board of Elections, I found at least eight UMMS board members — Stephen Burch, R. Alan Butler, John Coale, James “Chip” DiPaula Jr., Barry Gossett, Mr. Kelly, Robert Pevenstein and Walter Tilley Jr. — who donated to Governor Hogan the $6,000 maximum permitted by law.

Businesses apparently connected to Mr. Tilley, James Soltesz, Mr. DiPaula and Robert Rauch also contributed a combined $16,000 to Governor Hogan’s campaign.

Four board members or related businesses appear to have contributed above the $6,000 legal limit in total over a four-year period:

  • Kelly Integral Solutions LLC, contributed $11,000 — all while Kelly & Associates received a lucrative UMMS contract reportedly worth $16 million. (Mr. Kelly is among those who recently announced his resignation from the board.)
  • Leonard Stoler donated $2,000 to Governor Hogan as an individual, while his auto dealership, Len Stoler Inc., contributed $11,000.
  • Louis Pope donated $6,050 to Hogan.
  • And newly announced Hogan appointee Bonnie Phipps, who should have undergone increased vetting in light of the intense board scrutiny, donated $6,700.

Other newly appointed members who contributed to Governor Hogan include Kathleen Birrane ($4,000), Joseph T.N. Suarez ($510) and Jason Frankl ($100).

In order to boost accountability, and in response to numerous complaints of politicization of the state workforce, I introduced and passed legislation (Senate Bill 751) during this past session that would increase transparency regarding the information gathered by the appointments office by requiring annual aggregated reporting back to the General Assembly. The governor vetoed it.

Perhaps S.B. 751 hit too close to home because it would help ensure that the appointments office doesn’t continue to fall short in its core mission of reviewing political appointees for boards and commissions due to a shifting of resources to vet non-political state employees seeking promotions or candidates seeking non-partisan state jobs. If the appointments office can’t root out obvious conflicts of interest in political appointees to UMMS, what is it trying to root out in reviewing our state’s civil servants?

S.B. 751 would also establish a whistleblower hotline monitored by Maryland’s Attorney General, creating another mechanism for anonymous reporting of conflicts of interest that might have caught the UMMS dealings and evident campaign finance violations sooner.

Although the governor calls this legislation an example of “blatant usurpations of executive privilege,” I call it responsible checks and balances.

The UMMS controversy clearly points to the need for greater scrutiny of the Governor’s Appointments Office and his appointments process. Overriding the veto of S.B. 751 would be a good first step in that direction.

Sen. Clarence Lam (clarence.lam@senate.state.md.us), a Democrat, represents Baltimore and Howard Counties in the Maryland General Assembly. He chairs the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight and serves on the Senate Executive Nominations Committee.

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