Bromwell’s Legacy Lives On in Pay-to-Play Financing of Elections in Maryland

Sean Dobson, Progressive Maryland (240)393-6798

Adam Smith, Public Campaign (202)386-8801

Mary Boyle, Common Cause (202)487-0518

Reform Advocates Stress Clean Elections-Style Public Financing

as Best Solution to Prevent Similar Scandals

Annapolis, MD- New details revealed yesterday about indicted former state Senator Thomas Bromwell underscore the need for a change in the way politics are done in Maryland, three watchdog groups said today. The groups – Progressive Maryland, Public Campaign and Common Cause – pointed to SB 546, the Public Campaign Financing Act, as the best and only viable way to combat future scandals.

In newly-released FBI transcripts obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Sen. Bromwell discusses favors and connections around utility deregulation legislation in 1999, legislation he pushed through for Comcast, and his relationship with gaming figure Joseph De Francis.

“The Bromwell tapes show a state Senate that is way too cozy with deep-pocket special interests,” stated Sean Dobson of Progressive Maryland. “The best way for Senators to prove they are not beholden to BGE, Comcast, and casinos is to enact voluntary, public funding of campaigns.”

The groups pointed to four examples exposed by the wire tap transcripts of FBI informants and the Bromwell indictment and linked Bromwell’s actions to the domination of money in state politics:

Giveaways to Utilities. Bromwell discusses favors and legislative prowess on the controversial utility deregulation legislation he pushed through in 1999 which has resulted in monopolists BGE and Pepco gouging the public with no end in sight. Utilities donated $209,454 to state legislative candidates in the 1998 campaign cycle, just before the legislation passed. Bromwell himself received $4,000 in the 1998 cycle.1

Tuning in for Comcast. Bromwell bragged on the tapes that he was instrumental in passing legislation to overturn a court order requiring Comcast to refund consumers. Comcast’s executives and political action committee have contributed $195,456 to Maryland legislative candidates since 1995. The legislation handed over $75 million to the de facto cable monopolist at the expense of consumers.

Betting on Corruption. Regardless of what you think of slots as public policy, there is no denying that one industry should not monopolize the attention of the General Assembly for so many years, distracting lawmakers from other pressing issues, such as declining health care coverage and Bay cleanup. Bromwell, according to the FBI transcripts said that Maryland Jockey Club owner Joseph De Francis owed him a favor – the same De Francis who has been investigated by federal officials in connection to public corruption charges. The gaming and casino industry has donated at least $1.6 million into the legislature since 1995.2 It looks like all that money could finally pay off for Joe DeFrancis and his pals because many observers believe slots will be in the big revenue package likely to pass at some point in the next year.

Good Money After Bad. In his final campaign in 1998, Bromwell out raised his token opponent by a full half million dollars. His opponent raised a grand total of $13,000 while Bromwell raised over $500,000 and waltzed to victory with 68 percent of the vote.3 Many large contributors helped to stuff Bromwell’s coffers to overflowing but among the givers were key players in the corruption scandal that eventually led to Bromwell’s 30 count indictment. David Stoffregen, a former president of Kent and Poole, a contracting firm; Michael Forti, an executive with Kent and Poole; and Kent and Poole gave Bromwell $3,000.4 Forti plead guilty to an illegal scheme to obtain minority contracts through his wife’s sham firm. Stoffregen was indicted along with Bromwell.

“Legislators are not inherently corrupt, but the campaign finance system is corrupting,” said Jeannette Galanis, National Field Director of Public Campaign, a national nonprofit based in Washington. “Today, candidates who want to win must raise a significant amount of money, and the interests of those who contribute often win out over ordinary voters. It’s time for Maryland to follow the lead of Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and several other states and cities in adopting clean elections-style public financing.”

“We need a system that rewards legislators for their work to represent the public, not for selling influence to special interests,” said Mary Boyle, communications director of Common Cause. “Public funding for campaigns will ensure that the voices of voters, not wealthy patrons of elected officials, are heard in Annapolis.”

Clean Elections campaign reform is a practical, proven reform that puts voters first by making elections about voters and volunteers instead of big campaign donors. It is modeled on public financing systems in place in seven states and two cities. Last November, more than 200 officials were elected in Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina who ran under public financing systems. Similar laws are also in place for all or some offices in Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Albuquerque, NM, and Portland, OR.

On the federal level bipartisan bicameral Clean Elections-style public financing legislation was introduced in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced the Fair Elections Now Act on Tuesday along with a companion measure in the House by lead sponsors Reps. John Tierney (D-MA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Todd Platts (R-PA).

1. The Institute on Money in State Politics,

2. The Institute on Money in State Politics,

3. Maryland State Board of Elections,

4. The Institute on Money in State Politics,