Maryland delegates threaten to seize ‘House of Cards’ property if filming leaves the state


Kevin Spacey arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP) (Jordan Strauss/Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Members of the Maryland House of Delegates are still stewing over a threat from the “House of Cards” producers to leave the state if they don’t get millions more dollars in tax credits.

So delegates have issued a threat of their own: Sure, go ahead, leave this beautiful place that’s brimming with dedicated workers. But if you do that, state officials might use eminent domain to purchase, condemn or somehow seize your sets, equipment and other property.

The threat was proposed Thursday afternoon by Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) and quickly approved with barely any debate or even a roll-call vote.

“I literally thought: What is an appropriate Frank Underwood response to a threat like this?” said Frick, referring to the Netflix drama’s lead character, a charming but conniving politician who murders, blackmails and threatens his way to greater power. “Eminent domain really struck me as the most dramatic response.”

After the “friendly amendment” to the budget was approved and applauded, Del. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery) tweeted: “How did that happen?! Is @billfrick the new Frank Underwood? All that and more will be revealed in the coming days.”

The makers of “House of Cards,” Media Rights Capital of Los Angeles, shouldn’t be too worried — yet.

The state Senate is not expected to agree to the powerful property grab, especially after senators voted 45 to 1 last week to increase the amount of available tax credits in the coming year to $18.5 million, hoping to appease the production company so it doesn’t have to follow through on its threat.

The amendment does not actually mention “House of Cards.” It simply states that the Department of Business and Economic Development “under certain circumstances” can “exercise certain powers of eminent domain” to acquire the property of a film production company that has claimed more than $10 million in tax credits and then ceases filming in the state.

“It’s a terrific show. I love it. You probably love it,” Frick said on the House floor. But, he added, the threatening letter that Media Rights Capital sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in January “went a little far.”

Back in 1984, the Maryland Senate passed legislation that would have given state officials permission to use eminent domain as a way to try to keep the Baltimore Colts football team from relocating to Indianapolis. The Colts then packed up in the middle of the night and left. The Colts’ lawyer at the time, Michael Chernoff, told Sports Illustrated in 1986 that the legislation forced the team’s owner to quickly make a decision: “They not only threw down the gauntlet, but they put a gun to his head and cocked it and asked, ‘Want to see if it’s loaded?’ ”

Frick’s Underwoody move on Thursday comes less than a week after the real Frank Underwood (well, actor Kevin Spacey, but he acted very Underwoody) mingled with lawmakers at an Annapolis wine bar — and whipped votes for the tax credit. The exclusive reception provided signature cocktails, a rousing speech from the fake politician and ample opportunity to snap selfies.

Each year, Maryland sets aside $7.5 million to reward production companies that film in the state. That’s not nearly enough to cover the $15 million the producers of “House of Cards” expected to get for filming Season 3 in the coming months. The House Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on the Senate legislation that would increase the pot to $18.5 million.

The show has already received or is on track to receive $26.6 million in tax credits for filming seasons 1 and 2 in Maryland. The show has delayed filming Season 3 until lawmakers promise to hand over the cash.

Frick said he skipped the recent reception with Spacey to spend time with his children. He might also want to skip any late-night visits to subway platforms until Season 3 is a done deal.

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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