—– By: Ann Costantino —–
A detailed study by The Baltimore Post of the campaign finance reports for the Republican and Democratic candidates for Baltimore County executive have revealed a 4:1 difference when it comes to the money developers and property management companies have invested in each candidate.
While Al Redmer, Jr. received $65,400.18 from the subgroups, Democratic candidate, Johnny Olszewski, Jr., brought in $262,385 — almost four times that of his Republican opponent.
For some, which candidate to choose as Baltimore County’s next county executive is not a party-line issue, but rather boils down to who is perceived as a departure from “pay to play” politics where hefty campaign contributions have been traced back to candidates and their voting records, such as those found last year concerning a controversial development project known as “Towson Gateway.”
For the county executive race, readers asked The Baltimore Post to “follow the money.” And we did.
Here’s the breakdown:
From December 2014 through the last recorded campaign contribution report, Olszewski’s campaign received $1,436,575. Of that, $1,131,326 of the contributions are from 2017 and 2018. Of 2,798 total contributions, 249 were from developers, builders, commercial real estate and property management companies as well as individuals directly related to those companies. The contributions came from a total of 81 companies and individuals. For Olszewski, that number is 18.26% of his to-date campaign receivables.
In contrast, Redmer received $611,288 from 1,628 contributors during the 2017 and 2018 reporting periods. He did not receive contributions between 2014 and 2016. Of Redmer’s total contributions, $65,400.18 came from the same subgroups via 41 individual contributions, given by a total of 25 companies and individuals. And in his case, one PAC. In short: 10.7% of Redmer’s total campaign contributions came from developers, commercial real estate and property management companies.
The Baltimore Post used specific criteria during its study of the campaign data.
- Developers, development and general contracting companies.
- Commercial real estate and property management companies.
- Builders and construction companies.
- Donations listed as “individual” from owners, CEOs, partners and principals from those companies.
Not counted were:
- Architects, architecture firms, pavers, bricklayers, drywall, concrete, electrical, HVAC or any other type of job-specific contractor or construction company.
- Companies whose main focus is demolition, even if they also do construction.
- Companies which only manage a singular project, such as one apartment complex or apartment building.
- Individual donations from lower-level employees from those companies.
- Spouses of company principals, unless the spouse is named as working for the company. (This occurred in only one instance.)
- Residential real estate companies or real estate agents who made a donation.
At first glance, the campaign finance records did not make the specific contributions apparent. The Baltimore Post looked at the roughly 4,500 combined donations between the two candidates and linked companies with company principals through various data sources in order to confirm the function of each company—and principals within those companies—to weed out those that did not meet the criteria.
Several developers used smaller limited liability companies through which to make their donations. Others opted to use acronyms as company names. Some used more than one address. This made finding the affiliated companies difficult and time consuming. From there, companies were researched for their specific function, and company principals were found and matched with corresponding donations.
Of the 34 developer-related contributors who donated to Mr. Redmer’s campaign through 47 donations, some of Mr. Redmer’s biggest spenders include Tradepoint Atlantic for $8,000, a PAC in the name of David S. Brown Enterprises for $6,000, Mackenzie for $6,000, Mid-Atlantic Properties for $5,000 and Jamin Development for $4,000.
Some of Mr. Olszewski’s biggest spenders are Obrecht (and LLCs) at $20,500, Land Investment Group (and LLCs) at $12,500, J.A. Argetakis at $11,000, Tradepoint Atlantic at $10,500, Weinstein at $6,700, Vontran (and LLCs) at $6,200, and Manekin at $4,000. Those contributions were among the 249 donations given through 81 companies and individuals.
The Baltimore Post reached out to Mr. Olszewski’s campaign office for comment about the roughly quarter million dollars in developer-connected campaign contributions. Through a statement, Mr. Olszewski told The Baltimore Post, “We are proud of the broad and diverse coalition we have created. Over 80 percent of our campaign funds – $4 out of every $5 we’ve raised – have come from community members, educators, labor leaders, and all those that believe in our vision for a better Baltimore County. I’m proud to be the only candidate (in) this race committed to campaign finance reform, including the creation of a public financing system to help get money out of our politics. The only special interest we should serve is the people.”
Hannah Marr, a spokesperson for Al Redmer, told The Baltimore Post of the contributions, “What I can say is we have received widespread support from the entire business community, not just developers, because Al has a lifelong track record of supporting pro-growth and pro-job policies and was endorsed by the Maryland Businesses for Responsive Government. He has an 89 percent lifetime business rating from them, as opposed to his opponent, who has a 37 percent.”
Sean Naron, a spokesman for the Olszewski campaign, spoke to contributions Redmer’s campaign has received for which Redmer has been criticized in The Baltimore Sun. Naron said, “…our opponent has broken his own pledge, taking tens of thousands from the insurance industry after saying he wouldn’t. If he can’t restrain himself from special interests now, how can he be expected to do so as executive?”
Earlier this month, The Baltimore Sun published a story on Redmer, stating the candidate, who serves in the Hogan administration as the state’s insurance commissioner, had collected $57,445 in donations from companies and individuals who are associated with the insurance industry. According to The Sun article, Redmer pledged not to accept such contributions. The Sun stated the Maryland Democratic Party tallied the contributions.
In response, Marr told The Baltimore Post that none of the contributions received were from individuals or businesses that are regulated by the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA). “This is a self-imposed rule that Al named for himself,” she said. “He is allowed by law to (accept them). He has chosen not to,” Marr said. “We have actually returned contributions that have fallen through the cracks,” Marr added.
As for the development money the Redmer campaign has received, Marr continued, “The developers that everyone is upset about—the ones that are engaged in the culture of cronyism that Al has been talking about for over a year now—they are not the developers that are supporting our campaign.” She said, “They are supporting a campaign, but it is not our campaign.”
The Baltimore Post did not disclose opponents’ contributions to the candidates in advance of this story.
Dr. Richard E. Vatz, a Towson University professor whose expertise lies in political persuasion and rhetoric, said of developer contributions during a phone conversation with The Baltimore Post, “This is precisely what Jim Brochin had criticized as the ‘pay for play.’” And, Vatz said, “It’s apparent that it is quite active.” He said, Brochin “actively opposed the pay to play.”
Senator Jim Brochin lost by 17 votes in the Democratic primary to Olszewski. Brochin is known for his pledge to end Baltimore County’s “pay to play” system. He told community members after a tense County Council meeting last year, “You all deserve a better government than you got in there. Just keep fighting. Developers run the show here. That is not the way government is supposed to work. Keep up the fight and end ‘pay to play’ in Baltimore County,” Brochin said. “The government is yours…This is your county, not the developers’ county,” he said.
Brochin declined to comment for this story.
Both Redmer and Olszewski addressed the issue of pay to play in a pair of articles published by The Baltimore Post earlier this week. Olszewski said, “While development plays a role in Baltimore County, government has a responsibility to reshape what that role is. Under my administration, development will be community-led and transparent so that government can be held more accountable.”
Redmer told The Baltimore Post his “only interest will be to increase accountability in our schools, encourage job creation, and make Baltimore County safer and more affordable. The first thing to go will be the cronyism of the ‘old boy network’ and its corrupt ‘pay to play’ style of government.”
The State Board of Elections will post the candidates’ latest round of campaign contributions on Monday. This story will be updated or republished to reflect those additions.
11/2/18 correction: $1,750 has been reallocated back to the Other/Business and Individual contributions for Redmer from the “Developer/Builder” column, as eight contributions were mistakenly added in the chart originally published by The Baltimore Post on 10/24/18. The article has been updated to reflect this correction. We regret the error.
*** The writer of this article encourages respectful discourse concerning all candidates and elected officials.***