In Latest Salvo, Franchot Wants Lawmakers to Renounce Liquor Industry Cash

    Responding to legislation targeting his ability to raise money from the alcohol industry, which he currently regulates, state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) on Friday urged state lawmakers to renounce alcohol money as well.

    Franchot also urged House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) to “lead by example” by removing a prominent liquor distributor as his campaign treasurer.

    Franchot’s newest public declaration, delivered in a letter to Busch, is the latest salvo in the battle between the comptroller and the General Assembly over alcohol regulations and related issues – part of a broader war between the state’s tax collector and legislative leaders.

    Earlier this week, lawmakers introduced legislation to strip Franchot of his ability to regulate the alcohol, tobacco and motor fuels industry – along with the companion bill preventing him or members of his staff from accepting campaign contributions from those industries.

    “I believe this is part of the ongoing campaign to punish me for pulling back the curtain on the big beer cartel that has been running Annapolis for decades,” Franchot said in a statement Friday. “I will gladly support the bill if this bill applies equally to all members of the Maryland General Assembly, their slate committees, Political Action Committees (PACs) and all of the other backdoor ways they have to raise money from special interests. If we’re serious about taking big beer money out of the political process, let’s stop playing games and seeking retribution for one person’s support of the family-owned, small business, craft beer industry. Let’s do this right.”

    Franchot specifically singled out Busch and Neal Katcef, a liquor distributor in Anne Arundel County who has been Busch’s campaign treasurer for years, and suggested Katcef ought to step down from that post.

    “I have known Neal personally for many years and he has even supported my own campaigns,” Franchot said in his statement. “He is the consummate gentleman and incredibly supportive and generous to the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County community through his charitable activities. He also works professionally and proactively with our Field Enforcement Division. This is not an effort focused on Mr. Katcef as an individual.

    “However, how can the Annapolis Machine claim, with straight faces, to be objective on issues affecting Maryland craft beer when a major player in Big Beer literally collects the campaign contributions, writes the checks, and keeps the books for the most powerful man in the House of Delegates?”

    Busch’s chief of staff, Alexandra M. Hughes, declined to comment.

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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.