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Crony capitalism: it’s not just for the feds anymore

I intended this as an opinionated followup to the story below, which details the incestuous political relationship between Delegate Maggie McIntosh, who chairs the Environmental Matters Committee in the House of Delegates, and a number of other Maryland officeholders. According to Newgent, Delegate McIntosh has personally brought in nearly $400,000 to her direct-mail and consulting firm, called McIntosh Files, from other Annapolis politicians including Governor O’Malley.

While the maneuver of being a political consultant and Delegate is a little fishy, it’s apparently not illegal. But Newgent digs deeper and claims that McIntosh hasn’t disclosed her interest in another consulting firm called TruBlu Politics. (Yes, failure to disclose this sort of information IS illegal as it runs afoul of ethics laws.) A press release from 2009 published on the Maryland Politics Watch website quotes McIntosh as being “extremely excited” to join TruBlu.

In his post, Newgent compares the McIntosh shenanigans to those of Ulysses Currie, who was recently acquitted of federal charges stemming from his work for Shoppers Food Warehouse.

But I sense a different brand of hypocrisy running through this episode. For years, Democrats have attempted to secure a public financing system for state elections (this was the latest rendition from the 2011 session) in order to rein in the amount of money going into politics – but they seem to be the ones who use their office for personal financial gain the most. Apparently in Maryland the pay-to-play system is alive and well, and McIntosh is one of the chief beneficiaries.

So let’s paint a scenario here. A would-be politician gets into the race and decides, since he’s a loyal liberal Democrat, to use the companies McIntosh owns or works for to assist in his campaign. That’s all perfectly legal on his behalf, but what favors would he owe to McIntosh – remember, she’s a committee chair and there’s always the chance he could be assigned to her committee – for helping him get the seat? Even if he’s not placed on her committee, if a bill has anything to do with the Bay it’s likely that McIntosh will either put the bill in play or lock it in her desk drawer, depending on her mood and reading of the bill – so it’s good to have her as a friend.

And the GOP really can’t do anything about her practice. Right now Republicans don’t have enough numbers to bypass committees by themselves, and it’s not likely a Democrat will cross one of their own to make that happen. This is even more true if the committee chair in question helped with your winning campaign.

Certainly Republicans have their political consulting firms too but I don’t think any of them are owned or operated by a sitting member of the House of Delegates who runs a pretty powerful committee. As Newgent says right up front, using your office to drum up clients isn’t illegal. But it still reeks to high heaven, particularly when many other members of the House of Delegates make an honest living outside of politics and act as citizen legislators instead of being paid mercenaries for those who want a larger slice of the taxpayer pie.

Of course, the cynic in me will simply wait for the McIntosh mea culpa and her pledge to refile the paperwork to reflect the additional duties (and paycheck) she’s taken on for TruBlu. Whether those papers will actually be filed is unimportant, since the partisan media will consider the apology and promise as the end of the story, dismissing anyone who follows up on whether things were actually set right as simply a partisan hack. We all know Maggie’s heart is in the right place, and there’s just so much paperwork involved with being a public servant. (Yes, that last sentence is sarcasm.)

If Maggie McIntosh wants to be a full-time lobbyist and political consultant, there’s nothing stopping her from doing so. But it would be a better example if she confined her efforts to the federal level instead of the body to which she belongs, otherwise she should drop the pretense and leave the House of Delegates.

I’m not holding my breath on that happening, though. We all know what happens when one gets absolute power.

A slightly different version is crossposted on monoblogue.





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