Did the absence of a powerful committee chairman in the State House Tuesday smooth the way for a bill that could unleash real estate cash in Prince George’s County elections?
With Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) excused for the rest of session — his wife died early Tuesday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer — the Senate moved quickly to pass a measure that would lift a ban on contributions by developers and other real estate interests to Prince George’s County executives when they have a development proposal before the county government.
Pinsky, arguably the legislature’s strongest proponent of political reform, hated the bill, and blocked it last year when it came before his committee.
The restriction on developer contributions had been in effect since 2012 and was enacted in the wake of the bribery scandal surrounding former Prince George’s County executive Jack Johnson (D). Johnson’s successor, Rushern L. Baker III (D), embraced the reform as a way to show the county had moved on from its pay-to-play reputation.
But the proponents of the bill to lift the restriction, which was introduced by House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), noted that Baker’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2018 was hampered by the fact that he did not have a robust war chest — and argued that if he had been allowed to accept real estate industry donations, he might have been a more competitive candidate.
After staying out of the fray last year, Prince George’s current county executive, Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), promoted the legislation, casting it as an equity issue and questioning why officeholders in majority-black Prince George’s shouldn’t enjoy the same ability to collect money from developers that their counterparts in other jurisdictions do? (Majority-white Frederick County adopted the same ban a few years after the Prince George’s policy went into effect — legislation modeled after the Prince George’s bill.)
The legislation lifting the ban passed the House 105-23 on Saturday. On Tuesday, it emerged from Pinsky’s committee on a 9-0 vote, with the Education, Health and Environment vice chairwoman, Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), abstaining. On Tuesday afternoon, the bill won preliminary approval in the Senate, and on Tuesday night, it passed 37-7, with Kagan again abstaining.
Lawmakers said Pinsky, despite his objections to the legislation, had promised Alsobrooks earlier in the year, that he would allow it to come up for a vote. Whether the results would have been different if Pinsky were present is anybody’s guess.
The bill now heads to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) — whose father was Prince George’s County executive from 1978 to 1982.