Should Don Fry Have Recused Himself from National Harbor Vote?

 Last month, the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Gaming Commission awarded Maryland’s next casino in Prince George’s County to MGM Resorts.  MGM plans to build a $925 million resort casino at National Harbor.  MGM beat out three other companies for the bid, Greenwood Racing, Penn National Gaming, and MGM Resorts International.
However, commission chairman, Donald Fry’s, connections to a public affairs firm used by MGM to push for expanded gambling in Maryland raises some serious questions.  Governor Martin O’Malley appointed Fry to chair the commission.
Donald Fry is a regular columnist for the “news” website Center Maryland, where regularly pontificates on the need for partnerships between business and government.  Center Maryland is a creature of the politically connected public affairs firm KO Public Affairs.
As I detailed in Baltimore Sun oped earlier this month, KO Public Affairs is run by two highly connected political operators, Steve Kearney, O’Malley’s former communications director, Damian O’Doherty former top aide to Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, who is now Secretary of Transportation.

KO was also a major player in the push to expand gambling in Maryland. During the 20102 special session on expanded gambling, they and marred the line between being a lobbying firm and a media outlet.  A KO employee was photographed on the floor of the Senate wearing a Center Maryland media credential during debate on the gambling expansion bill.  KO was representing MGM Resorts, which is looking to build a casino at National Harbor.  According to state campaign finance records KO received more than $400,000 from casino interests to advocate passage of the ballot question approving expanded gambling in last year’s election. 

According to state campaign finance records, the two ballot committees, which made $400,000 in expenditures to KO during the 2012 referendum campaign were For Maryland Jobs and Schools and Maryland First Now Vote Yes on 7 Inc.  MGM contributed nearly $41 million to For Maryland Jobs and Schools.  MGM’s partner in the National Harbor bid, Peterson Development Companies LLC was the source of the vast majority of Maryland First Now’s $3.1 million in contributions.  KO’s Chief Operating Officer, Howard Libit, was the treasurerfor the pro-National Harbor union backed group, Building Trades for National Harbor/Maryland Workers for National Harbor which supported the legislation that enabled the 2012 gambling referendum.  
According to the Maryland State Ethics Commission’s annual report, that group spent more than $2.7 million lobbying Maryland government during the year the legislature approved the referendum that went to the ballot.   The address listed for Building Trades for National Harbor and Maryland Workers for National Harbor on the ethics commission’s employer report, is the same address as KO lists for its office on its website.
Center Maryland’s other founder, Martin Knott, chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Corporation (also appointed by O’Malley) was also a vocal supporter of a casino at National Harbor and spent the summer of 2012 writing opinion pieces and doing media supporting expanded gambling.
Was KO acting on behalf of MGM and Peterson Development to influence the commission’s decision?  Should Don Fry have recused himself from casting a vote given his ties to KO through Center Maryland? 

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