04.05.10 The Cesspool in Annapolis
Except for social policy (like gay rights and reproductive freedom), the Washington Post editorial page is almost always wrong on county and state politics. The paper is rabidly pro-development and pro-big-business. That makes today’s lead editorial all the more remarkable — and telling — about the state of things in the state capital. I’ll reproduce it here in full:
Maryland legislature remains resistant to open government
Monday, April 5, 2010; A10
ABILL THAT would add transparency and accessibility to Maryland’s opaque lawmaking process is dying a slow death in Annapolis without the benefit of a public vote or even a debate. The same fate awaits the latest of at least eight legislative attempts in the past decade to allow public financing of campaigns for the legislature. The measure, designed to cut the massive influence of special interests in Annapolis, is gasping for breath in a state Senate committee where it’s also unlikely to get a vote or a debate.
Only in the Maryland General Assembly, where reform legislation goes to die, would so few be struck by the irony that bills to shine a light on government and dampen the influence of special interests are killed more or less in secret.
You’d think by now that Maryland lawmakers would be chastened by the corrupting effect of special-interest money in state politics. In 2007, Thomas L. Bromwell of Baltimore County, formerly the powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was sentenced to seven years in prison on federal racketeering and tax charges. Mr. Bromwell, once a top deputy to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), was found to have received payments from a construction executive in return for official favors.
The following year, another top lieutenant to Mr. Miller, state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s), became the target of an investigation when FBI agents raided his home. Mr. Currie, chairman of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, served as a paid consultant to a grocery company without either reporting the income as required by state law or declaring his apparent conflict of interest when voting for legislation affecting the grocery firm.
Following those cases, Mr. Miller dropped his long-standing opposition last year to legislation allowing public financing of elections to the state House and Senate. Despite that, opponents managed to kill the bill in the Senate. This year, assuming that Mr. Miller would maintain his support, advocates said that they had the votes to push it through. Unaccountably, Mr. Miller withdrew his backing last month, leaving the bill to languish and die in committee.
The death of these good government reforms means business as usual will prevail in Maryland’s capital, where a band of well-connected, deep-pocketed lobbyists representing developers, the alcohol industry, public employee unions and others get their way in backroom deals while the public is mostly left in the dark. This means candidates will remain heavily dependent on raising money from powerful special interests. And it will remain all but impossible for ordinary citizens to know when particular legislation will be heard in committee; to get timely information on legislative votes; and to have their voices heard by the Board of Public Works, a body composed of the governor, the state comptroller and the state treasurer that makes spending decisions worth tens of millions of dollars with little public input.
For now, the old-boy network in Annapolis continues to operate in the old way.