Reboot Likely for Anne Arundel Legislation Limiting Developer Contributions

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman during a campaign appearance last fall decrying the influence of real estate interests in county politics. File photo

A top legislative priority for new Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) is being significantly retooled, county officials said Thursday.

Pittman, who made fighting the influence of developer money a major component of his upset win in November, said the county’s legislative delegation is going to amend a bill designed to prevent real estate interests from contributing money to the Anne Arundel executive if they have development projects pending before the county government.

The bill as written would give the legislature say over the proposal – mimicking a bill limiting developer contributions in Prince George’s County that passed in 2011. But Anne Arundel officials instead will seek authorizing legislation from the General Assembly to place the question before the County Council instead.

“I think it came in a little bit hurried,” Sen. Pamela G. Beidle (D), chair of the county’s Senate delegation, told members of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee at a hearing on the bill.

The county’s Senate delegate met last week to discuss the legislation and could not come to any consensus, Beidle said – but felt the decision to limit developer contributions should rest with local officials after an extended period of public hearings, rather than with state lawmakers during a limited legislative session. Beidle added that the development process in Anne Arundel County differs from Prince George’s, making a law crafted at the local level more desirable.

Still, Pittman, good government advocates and civic leaders made a pitch for the bill, saying it’s needed to cleanse Anne Arundel County politics as the county government prepares a new general development plan.

Sen. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel)

“Developers have a lot of influence on land use decisions – that’s not news to anybody,” Pittman said, asserting that a poll conducted last fall showed 72 percent of Anne Arundel residents favor reform.

Community leaders who testified described snarled traffic and overcrowded schools as a consequence of developer influence in county affairs.

“Overwhelmingly, people feel like the deck is stacked against them,” said Jim Lyons, an Edgewater resident.

Pittman said he spoke with former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who pushed for the developer contribution ban in his county and expressed no regrets.

“I think it’s one of the better things the county’s done,” said Education, Health and Environment Affairs Chair Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), though he conceded that “some people came kicking and screaming” before coming to terms with the legislation.

Two representatives of the Maryland Building Industry Association testified against the measure.

D. Robert Enten, a lobbyist for the group, said “robust campaign finance laws” limit developers’ ability to pour an excessive amount of money into any given election.

“It’s almost like there’s an assumption of corruption out there,” he said of the legislation.

And Lori Graf, the association president, added: “This is a free speech issue as well as a property rights issue.”

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Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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