Some things have changed a lot in Frederick County over the last sixteen years. Some things haven’t.
During that time, we’ve had four elections (this year is the fifth) to shape our county government. We’ve made a major change from the county commissioner form of government to our still new charter government. The county has added more than 40,000 new residents. Etc.
One thing that has not changed is that development interests continue to “invest” in our local elections. Well, that hasn’t changed perhaps, but the amount of money they are willing to invest has changed…considerably.
Sixteen years ago, nobody would have predicted that only a dozen years later, in a Frederick County election, a candidate for county office (Blaine Young, in his campaign for the new county executive position) would receive nearly $700,000.00 from development interests (out of roughly $1,000,000.00 raised by his campaign). We can only hope that level of investment was so exceptional that we don’t see it again, even if we can see that the amount of money development interests are willing to invest in our elections has continued to grow.
A great deal of the investment by development interests in our local elections is in the form of direct contributions from individuals and companies to the candidates of their choice. But a significant additional amount is also often invested through third party efforts, such as quickly created political action committees (such as “Defenders of Citizens’ Rights Inc.”). Those don’t show up in a candidates campaign finance reports.
If history, especially our local history, is any guide, this will be just as true this election as in recent and other past elections. I encourage you to pay attention to that.
Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to share the two sixteen year old pieces below. The first is a news article from the Frederick News Post (“County races mostly funded by developers”) that was published shortly before the 2002 general election in Frederick County. The second is a column I wrote (“Voters have the ultimate responsibility”) that was also published in the Frederick News Post, two days later…also before the election.
County races mostly funded by developers
Frederick News Post
October 30, 2002
By Sean Barry
Companies involved in land development, along with their owners and employees, have poured more money into the Frederick County Commissioners election contest than all other contributors combined, according to a review of the final pre-election campaign finance reports.
The real estate and building industries, generally unhappy with the two incumbents who are running for re-election, have supplied about $40,000 for a group endorsing several challengers and largely bankrolled some individual campaigns as well, the reports show.
Development interests helped catapult Republican John Lovell to the head of the fund-raising pack — he has raised more than $36,000 — and also filled the campaign coffers of Republicans Mike Cady and Charles Jenkins, according to the reports. To a lesser — but still substantial — extent, building and real estate supported Democrats George Smith and Bruce Reeder.
The reports show Jan Gardner, an incumbent, along with Bonnie Bailey-Baker and Belinda Teague-Levy received little from the building industries, as did Republican Hugh Warner, though he’s more pro-growth than those three Democrats. Incumbent John L. Thompson Jr., a Republican whose campaign platform centers on opposition to development, apparently received nothing from the development forces.
The reports, many submitted to the county’s Board of Elections on the deadline of last Friday, reflect fund-raising efforts through Oct. 20. The next reports are due after the election, but the political action committee Frederick Countians for True Republicans disbanded after the primary and filed a closing report Friday.
The reports don’t indicate the employment of individual contributors, so exact figures on development-related money are not available. But the money from the firms in the building industries, plus the individuals known to be in those industries, is clearly higher than the total balance of contributions.
Among the largest sources of contributions was the Virginia-based firm — and its owners and employees — that bought Lake Linganore earlier this year.
Those contributions are listed variously as being from SK&R group; Calvert Development LLC; Robert Wilcox, the principal owner; William DiLoreta, an employee; and Frank Ellis IV, who is also on Mr. Wilcox’s payroll.
Their money went to Mr. Lovell, Mr. Cady and Mr. Jenkins.
Mr. Wilcox, who put Lake Linganore in bankruptcy when he bought it, has said his plans for developing the long-stalled subdivision involve financial mechanisms needing county government approval.
While some of the development-related contributors in the election are based out-of-county, others are local, such as Morgan-Keller Inc., Millennium LLC, Buckeye Development LLC and Earl “Rocky” Mackintosh.
Various officers of Defenders of Citizens’ Rights Inc., which focuses on land-use policy, made contributions primarily to Mr. Lovell, Mr. Cady and Mr. Jenkins.
Frederick Countians for True Republicans in its final report said it raised and spent $47,301. The vast majority of that, approximately $40,000, was from the building industries. Fifty-eight contributors were listed.
True Republicans endorsed Mr. Lovell, Mr. Cady, Mr. Warner and two other candidates who were knocked out in the primary.
The ballot issue committee Citizens Against Code Home Rule, formed Oct. 10 by many of the key players in Defenders, reported contributions of $2,950 and expenditures of $500 through Oct. 20.
Candidates had roughly between 30 and 110 contributors apiece. According to reports reflecting total activity through Oct. 20:
— Mr. Lovell raised $36,550 and spent $31,549.
— Mr. Cady raised $26,401 and spent $16,278.
— Ms. Gardner raised $20,679 and spent $15,900.
— Mr. Jenkins took in $19,505 and spent $11,543.
— Mr. Smith raised $17,740, loaned his campaign $10,000 and spent $11,056.
— Mr. Reeder raised $16,610 and loaned his campaign $2,500. He spent $11,324.
— Mr. Thompson raised $7,660 and loaned his campaign $1,000. He spent $7,514.
— Ms. Bailey-Baker raised $6,417, loaned her campaign $5,000 and spent $8,810.
— Ms. Teague-Levy raised $3,275 and gave her campaign $2,185. She has spent all but $18 of the total.
— Mr. Warner claimed contributions of $2,425, and he loaned his campaign $4,000. His expenditures were $2,887.
Voters have the ultimate responsibility
by Kai Hagen
Frederick News Post
November 1, 2002
Every resident of Frederick County has an interest in the outcome of next Tuesday’s election for the Board of County Commissioners. Based on the likely voter turnout, however, many of us don’t know it. Or aren’t motivated enough to cast a ballot.
Builders, mortgage bankers, realtors and other members of the development industry also have an interest in the outcome of the election. They do know it. And they are motivated.
Certainly, the citizens of Frederick County and developers have some important common interests and goals. After all, builders build our homes and neighborhoods. Banks and realtors and others facilitate the process of finding and buying our homes.
But our interests and theirs are not identical.
It is not in the interest of our communities to build as many houses as possible, as fast as possible, on any land a speculator or builder can purchase.
It is not the responsibility of developers to guarantee ample and uncrowded schools. It is not their job to ensure adequate and uncongested roads. It is not their burden to assure abundant green spaces and recreational parks. We can not rely on them to preserve agricultural areas. And it is not part of their mission to protect watersheds or groundwater supplies.
It is ultimately our responsibility.
And we delegate that responsibility to the five people we elect to serve us as members of the Board of County Commissioners.
Development-related companies can’t vote, of course, and the owners and employees who live in this county get just one vote each, like the rest of us. But they do have a right to make financial contributions to the candidates they believe will support their particular interests. And so they have.
Their substantial campaign contributions have paid for a blizzard of mailings and phone calls and yard signs and radio and newspaper ads. Realtors and builders have mailed their memberships and sent home flyers in paychecks telling people to vote for pro-growth candidates.
But the developers and the candidates know that a majority of Frederick County residents place growth-related issues atop their list of local concerns, so the campaigns don’t emphasize the fact that some candidates believe the county needs to speed up the stream of new homes. They aren’t investing in mailings and ads about discarding our Adequate Facilities Ordinance. They aren’t printing flyers to inform voters that discarding the impact fees on certain new development only transfers the cost to the taxpayers that already live here.
Just as development interests are entitled to invest their money in the local candidates of their choice, however, we are entitled to know who is giving how much to what candidates. Whether or not and how to take that information into account is up to each voter.
Complete financial reports will not be available until after the election. Nevertheless, the early reports reveal that virtually all contributions from builders and realtors have gone to candidates John Lovell, Bruce Reeder, Mike Cady and Charles Jenkins, who is a salesman for Ausherman Homes.
Clearly, those signing the checks hope to oust two incumbents in the race, Jan Gardner and John “Lennie” Thompson. They also hope to prevent the election of Bonnie Bailey-Baker or George Smith who represent the most likely third vote in favor of a few reasonable and moderate limits to growth.
If these candidates are targets because they don’t fully represent the relatively narrow interests of the developers, perhaps it is because they represent the interests of county residents first.
It is worth noting, contrary to some of the rhetoric, that there are no “No Growth” candidates in this race. The flow of new residents has not stopped, and is going to continue. Frederick County is now home to more than 200,000 people. Current projections say we will have 238,300 residents in 2010, and 281,700 by the year 2020. That’s 80,000 new neighbors before a child born today graduates from one of our crowded high schools.
Yet, in spite of the fact that more people have moved to Frederick County during the tenure of the current board than any other four year period, and another 12,000 or so homes are already planned and approved, Mr. Cady has criticized the board for what he calls an “extreme” slow-down.
Has it appeared that way to you?
When you drive around the county, have you felt we have been growing much too slowly? Have you noticed a few empty desks in your child’s classroom and a bit of elbow room on the roads?
Are you convinced next Tuesday is the time to put the pedal to the metal? Hang in there. I’m sure the traffic will clear up any minute.
When it does, please go vote to protect your interests.
If you are interested, I archived the columns I wrote between 2002 and 2005 here.