Dozens of star-struck lawmakers flocked to an Annapolis wine bar Friday evening to meet Kevin Spacey, star of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” and to hear a pitch for a generous tax credit that would keep its production in Maryland.
Delaying their usual rush to get out of town on Fridays, senator and delegates of both parties dropped by to meet and greet the Oscar-winning actor at a private reception. The real Annapolis politicians
couldn’t wait to get a glimpse of the man who may be the nation’s most popular fake Washington politician – the scheming and unscrupulous Frank Underwood.
Not surprisingly, lawmakers on their way into the Red Red Wine Bar on Main Street for the most part expressed strong support for the hefty tax credit being sought by the producers of “House of Cards.”
Earlier this year, Spacey announced that the show would return to Maryland for its third year of production. But about the same time an executive of the company that produces the show was circulating a letter among top state officials warning that the show might leave if the tax credit wasn’t larger than the amount proposed by Gov. Martin O’Malley for the program.
During its first two years, “House of Cards” has been subsidized to the tune of $26 million through the tax credit. The show is eligible to receive the majority of the $25 million budgeted this year for all eligible productions.
This year, the tax credit was to have reverted to $7.5 million, of which “House of Cards” would have been eligible for about $4 million. Maryland officials say the production of "House of Cards" has had a significant economic impact on the state.
An administration-sponsored bill offering $11 million in tax credits is pending in the House. Meanwhile, the Senate version offers $18.5 million in credits. The two chambers' will negotiate the final figure.
Del. John Donoghue, a veteran Hagerstown Democrat, was outside the bar early awaiting Space’s arrival. He said the film tax credit was “worth every penny” the state invested in it.
“It has a huge impact on the economy in Maryland,” he said.
Among the delegates who couldn’t resist were one candidate for governor and another for lieutenant governor.
Del. Jeannie Haddaway of Talbot County, the running mate of GOP candidate David R. Craig, said she’s a big supporter of the program.
“On the Eastern Shore we’ve seen the benefit of the film industry, most recently with “Wedding Crashers” in St. Michaels,” she said.
For Del. Ron George, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, the party was only a few steps from his Annapolis jewelry store.
George, an occasional actor who said he’s probably the only Maryland lawmaker with a Screen Actors Guild card, expressed support for the film tax credit program as he headed in to meet his union
“I will do whatever I can to attract them here, but I don’t take kindly to threats,’ he said.
George was an especially desirable guest because he sits on the Ways and Means Committee, which will decide the position the House will take in its negotiations with the Senate.
The lobbyist who arranged the reception, Gerard E. Evans, did a bang-up job of attracting Democratic heavyweights from that committee. Chairwoman Sheila Hixson of Montgomery County was there, as was Vice Chairman Frank Turner of Howard County. Majority Leader Kumar Barve of Montgomery County arrived with his wife. Majority Whip Talmadge Branch also turned out.
Turner said he had been lobbied earlier Friday by an executive producer of “House of Cards” and came away more sympathetic to the tax credit.
“Of course I was leaning against it, but I seem to be leaning more for it now,” Turner said.
Before the event, local TV stations set up cameras outside the entrance to the bar, hoping to get a shot of Spacey going in. But when Sen. Nancy Jacobs emerged, the Harford County Republican informed reporters that Spacey was already inside – apparently having found an alternate, very Underwood-like way in.
Jacobs said she had the opportunity to talk with the actor.
“I told him he wasn’t the greatest role model for elected officials,” she said.