Corruption at National Harbor

There is no cautionary tale here. Rather it is an old story retold. If you put politicians in close proximity to a fairly substantial pool of rather unaccountable money then you have no right to play Captain Renault when the money is used for personal gain and political aggrandizement. You have less right to be surprised when the politicians involved come from the budding kleptocracy in Prince George’s County.

Much more follows below the fold
When the agreement was inked to allow the development of National Harbor back in 2004 one of the sweeteners was a $350,000 annual kickback, or slushfund, or whatever disguised as the “National Harbor Community Outreach Program” and adminstered by a seven person committee. Three members appointed by County Executive Jack Johnson (Warning, Will Robinson! Warning!), three members appointed by the County Council, and one member appointed by the developer.
And the rules for using the money were pretty loose:

There are no restrictions of the use by Prince George’s County organizations or individuals who apply for grants other than the funds are used for community enrichment within Prince George’s County. There are no limits on the size of the grants awarded.

There were early warning signs. During Johnson’s reelection campaign the National Harbor Community Outreach Santa Claus paid suprise visits on people who could lend a hand in returning Johnson to power:

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The Washington Post reported in April that more than $181,000 was given to organizations with ties to committee members or to County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). Also, during his reelection campaign last summer, Johnson personally delivered at least $10,000 in grants to politically influential churches that had not applied for the funds.

To ensure the fox was firmly in charge of the henhouse, County Executive Jack Johnson’s wife joined the board of the organization which failed to provide discrernable oversight to this “grant” program, the Prince George’s Community Foundation.

[Foundation spokeswoman Lucenia] Dunn said the foundation has also clarified the involvement of Leslie Johnson, the county executive’s wife, who joined the foundation in January. She said board policy requires those with a personal or professional involvement to recuse themselves from voting “whenever it’s appropriate.”

Wow. Strong policy that.

There may be a glimmer of light here. The committee that in the past has flung around unsolicited grant money to the politically connected suddenly caught a case of the cautions and resigned claiming that some grants were made without their knowledge. Maryland State Prosecutor Scott Rohrbaugh is issuing subpoenas and with the bitterness now being directed towards Johnson by the now-resigned committee members I suspect he’ll have no shortage of cooperative witnesses.

In retrospect, there is a lesson to be learned here. Jack Johnson must not get control of Dimensions Healthcare and turn it into a piggy bank for his supporters the way he has abused the use of this fund.

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