Highway Backer a Steady Ehrlich Donor
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The $4,000 checks started arriving in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s reelection campaign treasury Jan. 2 from such obscure corporations as Freestate Owner LLC, Muirkirk, Chase Limited and President Street Associates.
By Jan. 3, there were seven of the checks, each from a company directly linked to developer Kingdon Gould III, a descendant of railroad barons who is one of Maryland's most prolific political donors and a vigorous booster for the intercounty connector.
That same day, Ehrlich's transportation secretary signed off on a final study of the controversial highway, an 18-mile ribbon of asphalt that would extend east from Rockville to the gravel pits where Gould plans a massive commercial and residential development called Konterra.
State officials said they had no idea the checks were coming in as they were sending out the long-expected report. Ehrlich (R) said the contributions, and numerous others from Gould and his companies, were based on friendship and a shared belief that the road connecting Interstates 270 and 95 should be built and that Konterra should flourish.
Gould declined to be interviewed for this report; his brother, Caleb Gould, did not return several messages left at his office.
Billed as a future mini-city the size of Reston, the 2,000-acre development site near Laurel has spent two decades stalled at the intersection of commerce and politics. Success has always banked on economic factors and on key decisions made by local and state politicians.
From Ehrlich, who is now seeking reelection, Gould has sought help pushing a series of transportation projects through the pipeline. Among them, a new I-95 exit that would feed directly into Konterra; a well-placed stop along a proposed Metro Green Line extension; and two ramps off the endlessly debated intercounty connector, itself a critical artery for Konterra.
The transportation proposals, and the connector, long predate Ehrlich's tenure as governor.
But records show that Ehrlich has helped move those proposals forward and that the Goulds have had ready access to the governor and his top aides to advocate for the projects. Supporters as well as critics of Ehrlich said they believe that the Goulds' contributions flow only to those who help.
"The connection between contributions and land use is something some people find sinister, but it's nothing new," said Thomas E. Dernoga (D), chairman of the Prince George's County Council and an opponent of the connector. "I always tell people, the battle to get a politician's attention pits your vote against developers' money."
Former governor Parris N. Glendening (D) said Gould was one of his top donors when he first ran for governor in 1994. "But when I started cooling on the idea of the ICC," he said, "the support I was getting from the whole Konterra crew basically evaporated."
When Ehrlich ran in 2002 pledging to build the connector that Glendening had shelved, Gould's companies gave generously. This year, as Ehrlich seeks reelection against Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), Gould has plainly pinned his hopes on the Republican incumbent. His corporations have donated $750 to O'Malley since 1999, compared with $50,500 directly to Ehrlich.