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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 11/17/2010

Legal corruption in Montgomery

By Keith Berner
How delicious it was to read about Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson being carted off in handcuffs the other day. It feels so good to see the arrogant get their comeuppance. I have trouble accepting how shady populists keep getting re-elected (four county-wide victories for Johnson). Even before the cops had enough evidence to arrest this guy, his character was apparent. All I needed to know came a couple of years ago when his high spending of county funds on personal pleasures was being looked at and it was found that he had been jetting around in first- and business-class. He responded: "I think the people of Prince George's County expect me to. I don't think they expect me to be riding in a seat with four across, and I'm in the middle." Nice.


So, what does this have to do with Montgomery County? Only the source of the corrupting influence: the development industry. I’m not about to claim that the leaders of my apparently better-governed county are carrying wads of developer cash in their bras or flushing $100,000 checks down the toilet. Nope, the system in MoCo is far more insidious. Here, it’s not (or doesn’t seem to be) about direct cash to politicians in exchange for specific actions. Rather, it’s about the overwhelming amount of the money for political campaigns’ coming from that one industry.

A study of the 2002 county elections by Neighbors for a Better Montgomery showed that county council candidates on the infamous, hyper-development End Gridlock slate were receiving between 56 percent and 72 percent of their campaign funds from developers. In a state with the 44th worst campaign-finance disclosure laws in the country, according to the Campaign Disclosure Project, politicians don’t have to tell us where they’re getting their money. But it doesn’t take a PhD to guess that when one industry exerts such dominance over elections, it is getting something in exchange.

The-best-political-system-money-can-buy is hardly a local phenomenon. Nationwide, the ultra-wealthy get special service for their cash, something that now appears to be permanently locked in stone following the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case. But at least on the national level, it isn’t a single industry – without real competition – calling the tune. In MoCo it is.

And the local problem is exacerbated by two newspapers that never met a paving project they didn’t like. The Post and the Montgomery Gazette (which is also owned by The Washington Post Co.) love to go whole hog after the public employee unions for skewing local politics (have you ever seen so many double-size editorials in a year as the The Post has run against the MoCo teachers’ unions?). At the same time, they ignore entirely candidates who don’t toe the developers’ line (Marc Elrich in 2006, Sharon Dooley this year).

The MoCo political culture is corrupt in its own way, and it is aided and abetted by Democrats in Annapolis who prefer pay-to-play over campaign-finance reform and their allies in what passes for a fourth estate. Make no mistake: MoCo is just as troubled as Prince George's. The only difference is how the game is played.

Keith Berner blogs at Left-Hand View. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Keith Berner  | November 17, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Maryland, Montgomery County, PG County  
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Comments

Sadly, every government, be it local or national, domestic of foreign, is formed for the benefit of those in office, not necessarily the governed. No government will reform and eliminate this legal corruption because the ones that can do it don't want to.

Posted by: pjohn2 | November 17, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry the waste and corruption by the unions in Montgomery County make anything the developers do look like chump change. Montgomery County has become a government in existance to further itself not serve the people of the county (Unless you are an illegal immigrant).

Posted by: Pilot1 | November 17, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Legal corruption? I see no complaints when the county schools continually are rated one of the highest in the nation. I see no complaints when homeowners home equity remains high when others around the country
fail. I see no complaints when the police and fire departments operate on an extreme level of professionalism. Frustrated citizens can complain about the system but choose your fights wisely and be lucky you live in a wonderful place.


Posted by: lily2009 | November 17, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Lotta mudslinging and few facts in this piece. There is no reference to a single action that developers purportedly got in return for their contributions, just a lots of inferences that if they got contributions, there must be corruption.

Sorry, but charges of serious public misconduct warrant a little more proof than this pastiche of unsupported allegations and guilt by association.

Posted by: krickey7 | November 17, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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