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Maryland political schmooze-fest still set for Steve Wynn resort in Las Vegas

Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn resigned as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee on Saturday, a day after the Wall Street Journal reported he routinely subjected women who worked for him to unwanted sexual advances. (Reuters video)

The “Maryland Party” — that annual Las Vegas schmooze-fest between developers and top elected officials — appears to be on schedule for this May despite the scandal swirling around Steve Wynn, owner of the event’s host venue.

The billionaire casino magnet, who got his start running an Anne Arundel bingo hall, resigned as the Republican National Committee’s chief fundraiser over the weekend after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced last week.

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While two candidates for Baltimore County executive have said they will not attend the Maryland Party this year, party organizer Howard Perlow said the event will go on at the Wynn Encore in May.

“It’s still going to be at a Wynn resorts. We have a contract with them for this year and the year after,” said Perlow, executive vice president of Residential Title & Escrow Company. “I haven’t seen any pushback from anybody based on accusations.”

The Maryland Party, which corresponds with the International Council of Shopping Centers convention, has been held in a Wynn resort for at least 15 years, Perlow said. Dozens of elected officials attend every year.

“He grew up here in Maryland and thinks highly of the state,” he added.

The allegations against Wynn have caused political ripples in Maryland.

In a Jan. 26 tweet, the state Democratic Party called on GOP Gov. Larry Hogan to return all funds he helped the Republican Governors Association raise at an event last year in Las Vegas that featured him and Wynn.

The tweet, accompanied by a photo of Wynn and Hogan on stage together, encourages readers to share the tweet “if you think [Hogan] should condemn Steve Wynn and demand the return of the money he raised with Wynn for the RGA at their $10,000 per ticket fundraiser.”

A spokesman for Hogan’s campaign said the criticism is unwarranted.

“The Hogan campaign has never accepted a single cent from Mr. Wynn and received no contributions at the RGA event,” said Jim Barnett, Hogan’s campaign manager.

Maryland campaign finance records show that Hogan has not received any donations from Wynn.

(The biggest recipient of Wynn’s contributions was Republican former Gov. Robert Ehrlich. Wynn donated $5,000 in 2010)

The only apparent campaign finance link between Hogan and Wynn appears in a 2016 record. Hogan’s campaign committee spent $341.60 at the Wynn Las Vegas in 2016, records show.

Still, the Republican Governors Association has indicated it will spend heavily “to protect Hogan,” said Fabion Seaton, the Maryland Democratic Party’s spokesman. Now that Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has asked the Republican Governors Association to return funds it received in the last three years from Wynn and his firm, Hogan should do the same, Seaton said.

“Condemning Steve Wynn after these deeply disturbing allegations shouldn’t be difficult, but apparently it is for Gov. Hogan,” Seaton said in a statement. “Governor Hogan worked with Steve Wynn to raise thousands of dollars for the RGA, and he must demand that the money be returned immediately. It’s the right thing to do.”

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While Wynn has not contributed to Democratic candidates in Maryland, the state’s Democrats are frequent guests at the Maryland Party in Las Vegas.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond reported spending $2,535.76 on lodging and meeting expenses at “Wynn Las Vegas” for attending the 2017 International Council of Shopping Centers conference.

Almond, who is running for county executive, said that the allegations against Wynn are “disgusting.”

“No employee should be subjected to such behavior,” Almond said. “It is inexcusable. I will not be attending this year.”

State Sen. Jim Brochin said he believes lawmakers should not use taxpayer funds or campaign money to pay for traveling to Las Vegas for the convention and party. The Democrat is also looking to replace County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is running for governor and attended the party last year.

“I’ve been twice and I pay my own way,” Brochin said. “I think there is a legitimate concern. If [Wynn Resorts] brushes the allegations under the rug I wouldn't feel comfortable going. But if they're addressing [the allegations] then it could be looked at a different way.”

Two other Baltimore County Council members used campaign funds to pay for their trips. Cathy Bevins spent $3,708 at the Wynn Hotel in 2016 and 2017. Her Republican colleague, Todd Crandell, reported spending $1,182.61 in May 2017 at the Wynn Encore. The Dundalk councilman reported on his campaign finance report that the money was for “room and board expenses related to attendance at the Maryland Real Estate Convention.”

And Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman reported spending $2,051.23 of campaign funds at Wynn Hotel between 2012 and 2014 — when he was a state senator — for the convention.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s campaign committee reported two refunds of $296.80 from the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel from 2016 when she was a state senator. The refunds were for “mistaken hotel charged (refunded).”

Last year Baltimore’s Board of Estimates approved more than $11,000 for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and two aides to attend the shopping center convention last year from May 21-25, 2017.

Pugh and two aides also attended the conference at a cost of nearly $9,000 to taxpayers. In addition, Baltimore City Council members Leon Pinkett, Edward Reisinger, Sharon Middleton also attended. for about $3,000 each.

Young’s spokesman, Lester Davis, said plans for this year's conference have not been finalized. Officials say attending helps them court developers they want to lure to Baltimore to build shopping centers.

“I haven’t heard about any changes but that doesn’t mean there won't be any," Davis said. “The plans are just getting under way. We're working with the mayor’s office to cross-coordinate travel.”

Perlow said it would be unfair to change the venue based on allegations.

“I think he deserves a fair hearing," Perlow said. “Our world has started to convict people before giving them their day in court."

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