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Questionable Donation to Maryland Republican Party

Today we shine our light in the crevice of campaign finance and ponder the question: which side of the gambling fence was the Maryland Republican Party really on?

For those who have already forgotten the sordid history of last year’s Question 7, the ballot question and hundreds of commercial spots cluttering the media and airwaves beseeching a vote one way or the other on the issue, it came about when the General Assembly passed legislation in a Special Session last summer that placed the question of expanding gambling to include table games and a new facility at National Harbor in Prince George’s County on the ballot.

Before the question was decided with a slim majority favoring passage, both sides poured millions of dollars into the cause. On the pro-gambling side were factions supporting education, organized labor, and MGM Resorts International, which would develop the National Harbor project. Opponents mainly came from groups with a moral aversion to gambling, but corporate interests played a role as well: both the Cordish Companies (which owns the Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills in Hanover) and Penn National Gaming (owner of the  struggling Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Maryland as well as another Hollywood Casino in nearby Charles Town, West Virginia) actively supported the “Get the Facts – Vote No On 7″ initiative. They pointed out weaknesses in the proponents’ argument that money would be used for education, noting the ease of diverting gambling proceeds to the state’s general fund.

Get the Facts-Vote No On 7 funneled over $14 million of its money through a company called the DCI Group, which is the company in question here because last fall – after the election – they dropped $50,000 into the coffers of the Maryland Republican Party. The question raised is what the purpose of the money was, since the party officially remained neutral on the issue.

Screen shot 2013-04-17 at 7.03.00 AM

It would seem that the DCI Group, which worked on the side of the anti-Question 7 group Get the Facts – Vote No On 7, wouldn’t have a need to give a large donation to the party which didn’t officially lift a finger to help them, despite the fact that most Republicans in the General Assembly opposed the bill which led to Question 7′s inclusion on the ballot. If anything, Republicans were more notably featured on the side supporting Question 7 as former Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele and former MDGOP Chair Audrey Scott were prominently featured in their literature, which included an “Republican Voter Guide.”

The debate in the party dated back to their September Executive Committee meeting, where a motion to formally oppose Question 7 was offered to the body but failed on a 14-3 vote, with five abstaining. A second motion made by Wicomico County Chair Dave Parker to have the state party stay neutral but allowing each county to stake out a position – many had come out against the question on a county level – passed 21-1.

I asked Parker about the debate in an e-mail last week. His response:

I honestly don’t remember exactly. I listened to the discussion, and I moved to put the issue on the floor. After listening to the discussion, I made my motion to remain neutral. I think I did it because it appeared to be the emerging consensus of the group, and I thought that would get the issue decided. I recall there was talk about one group or another offering us money if we came out either for or against Question 7, and I was concerned that taking either side would put us in the you-got-paid-to-vote-the-way-you-did position. It was also clear that we were divided on the issue – unlike the others.

I do recall that I was trying to move us along, and I thought I felt the sense of the group. Apparently I did.

(Full disclosure: the writer serves with Parker on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee.)

But if there was “talk about one group or another offering us money” as Parker seems to imply, the interim Chair of the Maryland GOP doesn’t seem to have a recollection of it. I asked Diana Waterman about the situation and she replied:

Thanks for your email but unfortunately I was not involved in any discussions surrounding these donations – that was (then-party Chair) Alex (Mooney)’s thing. I only know what I heard at the Executive Committee and Board meetings.

Conveniently or not, Alex Mooney is now a resident of West Virginia, having left the state after his February resignation as Maryland Republican Party Chair.

It should be noted, though, that large-scale donations are not unusual in the Maryland political party world. Earlier in 2012 the Maryland Democratic Party accepted a $50,000 donation of its own, from the MacAndrews & Forbes Group of New York. In the same 2012 partial report, Maryland Democrats received a number of other five-figure donations; among them were $25,000 gifts from AT&T, Comcast, DaVita, Exelon, First Energy, and Lockheed Martin, and a $20,000 donation from CareFirst Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

So it’s not clear why the Maryland GOP received such a large donation, although there is the chance the money could eventually be funneled through the party to those legislators who opposed the expansion of gambling. In most cases, though, the Maryland Republican Party hands its limited money to those who share party affiliation, not necessarily its core beliefs.

Michael Swartz

Michael Swartz began his writing career with his home website, monoblogue. Since that modest beginning his words have been found on websites such as Red Maryland, Examiner.com, PJ Media, and now here on Watchdog Wire. He’s also appeared in newspapers as a former syndicated columnist for Liberty Features Syndicate, and wrote his first book, called So We May Breathe Free: Avoiding Ineptocracy (2012).

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