Builders Giving Big in Campaigns
By Peter S. Goodman
"We're finding a lot of people are developing cachet with the voters under the no-growth banner," said Susan S. Davies, co-director of government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, a trade group.
She said builders are seeking to support those who "understand the role growth plays in terms of the vitality of a county."
With many counties drafting long-term blueprints for growth or revamping land-use rules, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening's oft-touted "Smart Growth" initiative seeking to confine future development to established areas, developers have extra incentive to play an active role in determining which people wind up running local governments, some say.
"The feeling is, let's make hay while the sun shines, because we don't know whether the sun's going to be shining tomorrow," said Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans, who has been suggesting to developer clients, when they ask, how to send money to like-minded candidates in county races. "There's more and more competition in the development world. The government can shut you down in a heartbeat."
Some candidates, however, are pointedly refusing to accept developer dollars to highlight concern over the accelerating pace of growth in recent years. Others are making an issue of their opponents' willingness to amass such contributions.
In rapidly growing Howard County, for instance, two Republican County Council candidates have refused to accept contributions from development interests.
In Anne Arundel County, County Council member Diane R. Evans (D-Arnold) is seeking to turn County Executive John G. Gary's huge fund-raising advantage against him by spotlighting the money the Republican has received from several prominent developers. But Evans, who is challenging Gary, has accepted more than $3,500 in similar contributions as part of the $130,700 she has collected, her campaign finance report shows.
In many races, notably in county executive campaigns in Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, incumbents have enjoyed healthy support from developers, while challengers have been all but ignored. Analysts say the gap is testament to the powers that executives hold in determining the fate of development projects.
"Having a positive relationship with a county executive is not a bad thing to have going," said Herb Smith, who chairs the Political Science Department at Western Maryland College. "This is not rocket science."
For environmentalists, the continued weight of development money in campaigns is considered proof that builders play too influential a role in setting growth policy.
"The development decisions year in and year out reflect the disproportionate influence of the developers and their campaign dollars," said Glen Besa, Appalachian regional representative for the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group that is increasingly focused on combating sprawl. "The money follows the power."
In Howard County, where the suburban population has nearly doubled since 1980, the next County Council will play a major role in revising the general plan, which will chart development over the next decade.
"I've knocked on thousands of doors and the number one issue people are worried about is the continual development of Howard County," said Republican Allan Kittleman, who is running for the council's 5th District representing the west county and has rejected development money. So has Christopher Merdon, a Republican seeking the 1st district council seat, which represents the county's northeastern corner.
The two Republican county executive candidates, council members Dennis R. Schrader (Southeast County) and Charles C. Feaga (West County), have accepted development money. Schrader, who voted against a controversial development project this year, has raised a total of $161,501. Feaga, considered more friendly to growth, has collected $102,335. Democratic candidate James N. Robey has taken very little from developers and has raised $51,463.
Gary, the Anne Arundel county executive, has amassed more than $566,000 since he was elected four years ago, drawing heavily on developers for funds.
For example, the Mills Corp., which this month won approval for special rules designed to help it build an enormous shopping mall west of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, has contributed $2,500.
John E. Harms Jr. & Associates, an Anne Arundel-based engineering consultant hired by Mills, has given Gary $4,000.
The Reliable Contracting Co. has given Gary $4,000, the maximum allowed by law. The company's pension fund owns property within the bounds of the Odenton Town Center, a proposed mix of residential, commercial and retail development touted by the Gary administration as the linchpin of future growth in western Anne Arundel, the county's highest-growth area.
"The people who do business with the county are the ones who have reason to give money," said Gary's treasurer, George Shenk Jr. "By the same token, there's never been a favor that I'm aware of extended to them."
In Prince George's County, incumbent County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) has drawn much support from developers. His Democratic challenger, Randy McRae, has been virtually ignored by county builders and real estate interests.
"There is too much growth in Prince George's County," McRae said. "The developers know I'm not going to support them."
A campaign finance pool, or "slate," called Democrats 2000, which includes Curry and County Council member Dorothy Bailey (D-Temple Hills), reported $10,000 in contributions from sources connected with the developer of the proposed National Harbor resort near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
In Montgomery County, candidates seeking at-large seats on the County Council are employing sharply competing views on development to the same effect: generating campaign cash.
Newcomer Steven A. Silverman, a former president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, has received some $3,500 from attorneys for the prominent Silver Spring land use law firm of Linowes & Blocher, which has represented some of the large redevelopment projects proposed in recent years for that community.
Meanwhile, William B. O'Neil Jr., another candidate for an at-large council seat, has cashed in on his opposition to new development, collecting $5,800 from a Bethesda couple concerned about excessive growth.
Staff writers Manuel Perez-Rivas and Jackie Spinner contributed to this report.
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