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Purple Line opponents, country club members hold Hogan fundraiser

Opponents of building a Purple Line, including members of the Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, held a fundraiser for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) two weeks before Hogan was sworn in and as he considers whether to continue the light-rail project in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, according to campaign records and an event attendee.

Ben Ross, a longtime Purple Line supporter, said he began researching Hogan’s campaign contribution records after Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal (D-At Large), another longtime Purple Line advocate, tweeted Jan. 9 that he’d heard about the fundraiser at the Maryland Association of Counties’ winter conference on the Eastern Shore. Leventhal tweeted that Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) mentioned during a speech that he’d attended three Hogan fundraisers that week, including one hosted by Purple Line opponents in Chevy Chase.

Ross said he found that Larry Hogan For Governor received about $47,000 from contribution checks and credit card transactions dated Jan. 7 and Jan. 8. The contributions ranged from $200 to $4,000 each, with most at $500 or $1,000. Ross said he used an outdated Columbia Country Club membership list – he declined to say how old the list was – and Google searches, such as Linked In profiles, to link $35,000 of those contributions to country club members.

Columbia Country Club has opposed a light-rail Purple Line for years because the proposed route would run two-car trains through the club’s 104-year-old golf course, west of Connecticut Avenue and north of East-West Highway, 70 times a day. The club has long been considered one of the most well-financed and politically connected Purple Line foes. To ward off possible lawsuits that could delay the project, the Maryland Transit Administration signed a 25-page legal agreement with the country club in June 2013 stating that the club would drop all opposition to the Purple Line, in exchange for the state agency shifting the light-rail line’s alignment to better spare the golf course and a one-year limit on construction vehicles using club property.

The agreement did not bind individual members from opposing the rail project.

The fundraiser, Ross said, “shows that the opposition to the Purple Line is not about saving money. It’s about keeping transit out of Chevy Chase.”

To get more details about the fundraiser, The Washington Post contacted nine people on Ross’s contribution list, whom The Post also found in Board of Elections records and whose unusual names made them easy to track down quickly. All but one didn’t return a phone message or e-mail. One said “I have no comment.”

One attendee, who spoke on condition that he not be named, said there were 80 to 90 people at what he called a “reception” for Hogan in Bethesda. Not all of the attendees were Columbia Country Club members, he said, but “most people” there were opposed to a Purple Line. He said Hogan gave some “informal” remarks,  but he would not say what the then-governor-elect said.

Hogan has not announced whether he will continue the $2.45 billion project – construction is scheduled to begin later this year – or delay it or cancel it. Opponents and supporters are lobbying Hogan, with both sides trying to read any signals from the new governor.

Opponents have been bolstered by Hogan’s comments during the gubernatorial campaign that a Purple Line and another light-rail project planned for Baltimore would be too expensive and that state money would be better spent on roads. Supporters recently took some solace in Hogan keeping funding for a Purple Line in his proposed budget, even though Hogan said he had not yet decided whether to proceed with it.

Hogan’s acting transportation chief, Pete Rahn, told a Senate committee Wednesday that Hogan has asked him to keep an “open mind” about both a Purple Line and a Red Line in Baltimore. Rahn said he hoped to make a recommendation to the governor before the General Assembly’s 90-day session ends in April.

Hogan’s spokesmen said they couldn’t address the fundraiser because they are state employees. We’re still waiting to hear back from the Hogan campaign folks.