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Development donations pollute politics

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We often hear complaints about money in politics at every level impacting national, state and local campaigns.

While we all would like to see community interests prioritized over special interests, what are “special interests”? Don’t all people have a special interest when it comes to their own opinions on the issues?

Of course, but when someone can donate money to a political official, who can make decisions that benefit the donor financially, then that is just wrong.

Ethics laws disallow taking money from those you can financially benefit. For instance, you cannot give a judge money who is about to decide your case. Land use should be no different.

It is time for Howard County community interests to outweigh special interests in order to level the playing field on quality of life decisions in land use.

Even if we trust our political officials to not be swayed by contributions, when a large part of their job involves one industry, shouldn’t the appearance of a conflict just be removed?

A state bill was introduced last year to require recusal of county council members who receive contributions from those petitioning them for zoning changes, but it didn’t get enough support from our state elected officials.

Now, we need to ask our Howard County state legislators to get behind a new bill, with bipartisan support, to prohibit developers/builders from donating to campaign accounts of the county executive and county council, since they regulate their financial interests so frequently. Elected officials should not even have the appearance of a conflict.

Neighboring counties have laws banning developer contributions in county political races, and Howard County should do the same.

Prince George’s County has had a law of this type for decades. Montgomery County has one, and Baltimore County recently enacted one as well.

Even after the Supreme Court decision (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission) which gives broad rights for political donations, these local laws have stood up because of the financial conflict of interest in local regulatory work.

All the caps and limits that the Maryland Board of Elections enforces have legally stood as well.

Notably, many developer donations are often higher than they appear because the contributions often end up over the set limits by having “agents” contribute and using other loopholes.

I have heard from members of the building industry that they would support a ban on contributions because it would level the playing field for all developers. There would be no question about who donated and how much.

The People’s Voice Howard County civic/political organization is sponsoring a petition asking our state legislators to get a law on the books for Howard County. You can find petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/stop-developer-donations. Support and sign the petition to let our lawmakers know it is time to forbid these contributions.

It is time to make it harder for special interests to funnel funds to campaigns to gain influence over the interests of our general community, the environment and even the county’s own fiscal health.

Lisa Markovitz is president of the Maryland civic/political group, The People’s Voice.

YOUR TURN

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This column originally published in the February 2020 issue of The Business Monthly.

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