Rushern Baker: Careless or Corrupt?
Editor’s note: This is a special post by Marta H. Mossburg
Public documents show Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker did not answer county financial disclosure forms accurately.
And Mr. Baker, a lawyer in a very public state political fight to bring an $800 million casino to National Harbor, won’t explain why. He did not respond to multiple requests to answer questions about the 2010 and 2011 forms as well as inquiries about his campaign finance disclosures and prior work experience.
That Mr. Baker, whose predecessor Jack Johnson is serving time in federal prison for bribery, would not do everything in his power to clean up the image of county politics sullied by the continuing corruption scandals tied to Mr. Johnson is surprising. Most recently, news broke in May that the county spent hundreds of thousands to settle a lawsuit from a developer alleging a large bribery scheme involving county officials.
On the 2010 financial disclosure form, Mr. Baker checked “No” to a question asking if he had outside income during the calendar year. The first line under the title on the form, which Mr. Baker signed under penalty of perjury, is the date of the reporting period.
For part of that year Mr. Baker worked for a then Lanham-based nonprofit, Community Teachers Institute (CTI), according to an IRS Form 990 filed by the group, which is now based in New York. It lists him as executive director, working 40 plus hours per week and earning $60,000. The current head of CTI did not respond to questions about Mr. Baker.
CTI’s website, is two pages and lists no dates for seminars, symposiums or other events past or present that it hosts according to its IRS forms. Neither does it list accomplishments. According to news reports it was under investigation by state authorities for failure to file financial reports from 2007 to 2009, when Mr. Baker earned over $100,000 per year from the organization and during which it had a full time finance director for the first two years in question. Its most recent IRS forms from 2010 show it was running a deficit of over $100,000.
CTI is not the only potential source of income for Mr. Baker. His campaign biography says, “He became a Senior Partner at Baker & Perry LLP in 1998, where he worked until his swearing-in as County Executive in 2010.” The website also cited his work at CTI. And Lawyer Larry Burch says on his website, “In 2007, he joined Rushern Baker as a partner in The Law Office of Baker & Burch in Greenbelt, MD. After Mr. Baker’s successful election to County Executive for Prince George’s County, he and Ronald Voss formed The Burch Law Firm, LLC, (also located in Greenbelt).”
Mr. Burch did not return a phone call requesting information about his relationship to Mr. Baker. But it seems impossible that Mr. Baker could work 40 plus hours per week at CTI and as a senior partner at one law firm, much less two – and campaign for office.
Mr. Baker’s spokesman, Barry Hudson, said his biography was “incorrect” and that he was a partner with Mr. Burch alone. He also said Mr. Baker thought the financial disclosure applied only to outside income he earned once assuming office, despite the labeling on the form. But Mr. Baker’s outside income is only one issue.
A check of the bars in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania done by Ken Boehm of the Virginia-based nonprofit National Legal and Policy Center, which promotes ethics in public life, shows Mr. Baker is not a current member in any of those places. While he may have resigned his bar memberships upon entering office, if he was not allowed to practice law, how could he work as a lawyer as his biography states?
Also odd is the fact that Mr. Baker notes on both his 2010 and 2011 financial disclosure forms that his mortgage is exactly $350,000 each year. How is that possible? And, he states that the house is owned by both he and his wife, Christa Beverly, which contradicts mortgage documents showing the home in his name alone as of 2008.
He also stated on both his 2010 and 2011 financial disclosure forms that he held no stocks. It seems odd that a two-lawyer family in their fifties would not have investments, especially in light of his campaign finance reports.
Mr. Baker told The Washington Post in 2005 that he had a son entering college and could not mortgage his home to run a second time for County Executive in 2006. However, documents show he and his wife refinanced their home on Sept. 1, 2006, realizing about $125,000. A week later he loaned his campaign $296,000 in three separate checks, according to campaign finance documents.
IRS Form 990s show Mr. Baker earned $100,000 from CTI that year.
According to a biography of Ms. Beverlyon the Path to Greatness website, a nonprofit she co-founded, she lists no paid employment since 2006. The Washington Times reported that Path to Greatness spent half a million dollars to celebrate Baker’s election. According to the same Times piece Baker appointed Chris Lawson, owner of the property Path to Greatness lists as its address, to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission board of commissioners. Lawson’s wife, Michelle Haywood, is the executive director and resident agent for Path to Greatness.
Unless he was earning a large salary from his position as a lawyer or drained savings or investment portfolios—a financially disastrous decision for someone closing in on retirement age—where did he get the money?
An open 2010 Maryland district court ruling in favor of Capital One Bank against Ms. Beverly shows she owes over $15,000.
Misinterpreting a date is one thing. But the questions surrounding Mr. Baker’s financial disclosure forms and financial integrity go much deeper. He needs to fully explain his answers to the residents of Prince George’s who elected him and who have endured an almost endless stream of revelations of corruption among their elected officials. Mr. Baker must also explain the mistakes on his forms before legislators consider in special session or otherwise a new casino at National Harbor. An $800 million project should not be entrusted to a man with something to hide.
Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Rockville, MD. Her email firstname.lastname@example.org