FORMER MARYLAND governor Martin O’Malley made his name as a champion of liberal causes, but who knew he was also adept at scoring bargain-basement deals on personal household furniture — at taxpayers’ expense?
Thanks to what looks like a generous interpretation of state rules, by some pliable state officials, Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat who left office in January, was allowed to purchase much of the governor’s mansion’s residential furniture — 54 pieces from the family’s bedrooms and living rooms — for the attractive price of $9,638; the original price of those items, billed to taxpayers, was $62,000.
Mr. O’Malley and his wife, state District Court judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, paid about 15 cents on the dollar for furniture that his successor, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), described as “expensive, beautiful [and] barely used.”
The former governor was able to achieve this feat with an assist from the state’s Department of General Services, which designated the furniture as “junk” and therefore worthy of disposal at giveaway prices. This designation was supposedly owing to the furniture’s age (some was 20 years old, but much was purchased less than 10 years ago) and less-than-vintage condition.
Problem No. 1 is that the department’s own rules prohibit preferential sales of state-owned property — that is, sales without competing bidders — to government officials.
Problem No. 2 is that while a spokesman for the O’Malleys said they bought the goods only after it was declared “unserviceable” by the department, a spokesman for the department said that it was, in fact, Mrs. O’Malley who initiated the process by which the furniture was classified as “surplus,” according to the Baltimore Sun. And while the process of declaring property as excess generally takes days or weeks, the Sun reported, for the O’Malleys it took precisely one day — and that day was Jan. 15, the day the governor and his wife moved out of the mansion.
The O’Malleys made a combined income approaching $300,000 for most for the eight years of his governorship. Why couldn’t they buy their own furniture, new or used, when they moved into private accommodations in Baltimore? What did they do, exactly, to deserve a sweet deal paid for by Marylanders?
Mr. O’Malley is running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, but in this instance he might have been modeling his behavior on Bill and Hillary Clinton, who, on leaving the White House in 2001, made off with china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other goodies valued at $190,000. In the face of the ensuing public revulsion, they ultimately returned or paid for most (but not all) of it. Mr. O’Malley’s predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich (R), made off with 21 items, originally worth $9,904, paying just 10 cents on the dollar.
The O’Malley shopping spree at the governor’s mansion — a $750 chest snagged for $7.50; an $892 table snapped up for $8.93; a set of four chairs, originally $6,200 for $61 — has now been referred to the state Ethics Commission. Whatever the outcome, the verdict is clear: It reflects exactly the sense of entitlement on the part of public officials that turns voters’ stomachs.