More pay to play, the Martin O’Malley way

Damn, I can’t wait for this report to come out. Almost makes me wish Larry Hogan would drop this governor’s business and focus on getting more of this information out because too many will dismiss it as partisan opposition research:

Change Maryland has released new information that seems to reveal the appearance of a “pay-to-play” system within the O’Malley-Brown Administration where contractors received significant benefits from the state either before or after their donations to the Democratic Governors Association during Governor O’Malley’s tenure as its chairman.

“This additional data further suggests a disturbing pattern of behavior that, at the very least, is unethical and inappropriate,” said Larry Hogan, Chairman of Change Maryland. “I think the public has a right to know the truth about these practices. Did the governor and/or others in his administration solicit large contributions from contractors, then reciprocate by rewarding those donors with huge state contracts, contract extensions, or other special favors or decisions in return?” he added.

Obviously this has serious implications and gives the appearance of the potential for decisions being influenced by millions of dollars in “donations.” Recognizing the inappropriate and unethical nature of these relationships, state law currently prohibits state contractors from making contributions to an elected official’s campaign account. This evidence indicates the possibility of a deliberate, coordinated effort by this administration to circumvent the intent of the law by soliciting huge, unlimited contributions to a federal, rather than state, account.

The report released today by Change Maryland shows that healthcare services company Express Scripts received a $2.3 billion contract despite serious concerns about the company’s legal issues in Maryland and 28 other states. In 2008, the company paid over $9.3 billion in settlement costs to these states.

From March 2011 to February 2012, the Maryland Board of Public Works was deciding whether to approve the lucrative contract to Express Scripts to provide prescription drug services to state employees. In March 2011, two of the three members voted to postpone a decision out of concerns about the company’s legal issues and several flaws in the procurement process. Governor O’Malley was the lone vote to move forward with the contract.

During this same time, Medco – a company looking to merge with Express Scripts – donated a combined $225,000 to the DGA. In fact, their first contribution came just six days after Governor O’Malley cast the lone vote to move forward with the drug contract.

In late January 2012, the Board of Public Works again voted to delay the contract award, drawing significant criticism from Governor O’Malley at the time who complained about the endless delays. One month later, the BPW reversed course, awarding the contract to Express Scripts in a two to one vote. On March 27, 2012, Medco made their second and final donation to the DGA: $125,000. Medco and Express Scripts received final Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approval for their merger on April 2, 2012.

“Maryland’s working families deserve better from their elected leaders,” Hogan said. “This is what happens when you have an arrogant monopoly that feels they can get away with anything. What Maryland desperately needs is a healthy and competitive two party system, open and honest debate, and some real checks and balances to keep some of these outrageous abuses from taking place.”

In addition to this most recent research, Change Maryland released other questionable contributions from state contractors to the DGA.

Update: I was informed by a representative of Express Scripts that the correct settlement figure is $9.8 million (not billion.) This is incorrect in the original Change Maryland release, so I left the release as is and opted to clarify here.

Hogan’s group seems to be taking the Chinese water torture approach, leaking information on this report a drop at a time to both make the opposition wonder what else he’s got and keep up interest in the runup to the release.

This series seems to leave me torn as well. I’m an advocate for unfettered political contributions, even at the risk of these apparent pay-to-play contributions. But I also want full and relatively instant disclosure, and even though these are federal releases with a more aggressive reporting schedule than state accounts – at least in non-election years – there’s still a significant lag time involved.

The allegations also raise another embarrassing question: where was the state’s major media in reporting this? Didn’t anyone wonder why the vote changed? Certainly Comptroller Peter Franchot had his reasons for maintaining his vote against the issue; the vote which changed was treasurer Nancy Kopp – interesting, because hers is not an elected post. (The transcript of that meeting is painful to read because the state really seemed to drop the ball on a $2.3 billion contract, dropping a Maryland-based provider for the aforementioned Express Scripts.)

What I’m afraid of is that this Change Maryland report will be both the tip of the iceberg and dismissed as “old news” because Martin O’Malley isn’t running for anything in Maryland and Anthony Brown will escape culpability because Larry Hogan is now a political opponent instead of an honest broker.

We need to clean out the swamp, it’s true, but in order to clean it we have to secure the tools to do so first. I think it would also be a good idea for Change Maryland to reveal where it gets its funding, just to show leadership. That’s my two cents.

Comments

3 Responses to “More pay to play, the Martin O’Malley way”

  1. JWB on December 19th, 2013 7:37 pm

    Unless Hogan has evidence of an agreement, he has nothing. How many major corporations have donated to the two Governors’ Association? The timing is suspect, but there will be action pending somewhere most of the time a corporation donates money. And the practice of donating to sway someone, or just for access, is so common as to be unremarkable.

    So Hogan has put evidence on the table that supports the execrable concept of campaign finance law (the appearance of corruption) while *not providing anything of value to his O’Malley criticism.* (evidence of corruption)

    But the use of weasel language (“seems to reveal”, “further suggests”, “gives the appearance”, “indicates the possibility”) suggests that the Big Announcement will be like Hogan’s previous Big Announcement – all smoke and no fire.

  2. JWB on December 19th, 2013 7:43 pm

    And, oh yes, I forgot – O’Malley cast his vote *prior* to the Medco donation, and Change Maryland does not suggest that there was communication between Medco (a third party looking to join a primary party) and O’Malley. So why would you try to influence someone who was on your side?

    This isn’t about defending the O’Malley administration, this is about doing the work, getting your facts right and making sure you have enough to make a serious case, not just enough to avoid a defamation suit. It’s about being responsible enough in your accusations so that people take you seriously, and don’t say “There you go again.”

    Sitting at your computer trolling FEC reports and shrieking when you find something spinnable is nothing *but* opposition research.

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