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  • Jennifer Bevan Dangel
Common Cause Maryland research shows how special interests seek special influence in Annapolis; calls for reforms

ANNAPOLIS – Common Cause Maryland released research today that shows how special interests seek special influence in Annapolis, calling for reforms to ensure the legislature is as responsive to everyday citizens as influential donors.

“The 2017 legislative session has started under the pall of a string of scandals,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “These incidents raise questions over how entities seek to create influence in Annapolis, and these are questions that we need to address this session.”

Each year Common Cause Maryland analyses industry spending on lobbying activity. Research released today took a snapshot of one industry, the privatized bail industry, to show how campaign spending is paired with lobbying expenditures to have an impact on policy decisions during the session.

Key findings included:

  • Maryland is one of the top states for campaign donations by the bail bonds industry, ranking third behind only California and Florida, according to data from In fact, Maryland’s Senator Bobby Zirkin and Delegate Joseph Vallario are the second and third highest individual recipients in the country.
  • Total giving by the bail industry from 2011 to the present date was $288,550.  Giving in the last election cycle totaled $153,300. Giving in the current election cycle is on track to massively overtake that number, having hit $135,250 in just the first two years of the current cycle. Donations in just the last year totaled a staggering $87,100.
  • Giving was focused on key legislators. Donations flowed primarily to the chairs of the committees that oversee the industry’s legislation, Senator Zirkin and Delegate Vallario, as well a leading Republican on the Senate committee, Senator Michael Hough. These gifts were fairly sizable as a percentage of these individuals’ total fundraising. From 2011-2017, donations totaled:
    • $78,200 to Zirkin. In the 2014 election cycle, the industry gave Zirkin $37,000, or 11% of the $338,525 raised by his campaign.
    • $45,500 to Vallario; he received $33,500 during the 2014 election cycle, or 13% of his total fundraising of $255,983.
    • $19,000 to Hough; he collected $12,500 during the 2014 election cycle, or 4% of his total of $315,127.

“Special interests use campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures to build relationships, to ensure legislators know their perspective on policy reforms, and to be heard in the legislative process. As such, these expenditures are not inherently a concern. However, when entities are able to exert significantly more influence than the general public, or the people that their industry impacts, it creates an inequality in our democracy,” explained Bevan-Dangel.

“Common Cause Maryland supports reforms to our ethics and transparency laws to ensure that everyone has an equal voice in our legislative process.”

The full release, including the supporting research and a podcast, is available at the Common Cause Maryland website, or by clicking here.

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Founded in 1974, Common Cause Maryland is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that works in the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard.

For more information, contact:
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director, 410-303-7954,
Damon Effingham, Policy and Legal Director, 410-310-0737,