ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Council gave a green light to the Inter-county Connector Tuesday after one councilman charged that the change in fortune for the roadway was prompted by campaign donations.
Three council members opposed the road on an initial build-or-not vote: Marilyn Praisner, Thomas Perez and Phil Andrews.
The council also voted to support the original Master Plan alignment over a more northerly route. The road would connect Interstates 270 and 95 in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Praisner said she voted for this alignment, and an amendment slightly altering the road’s path, “because it would make a bad thing better.”
Andrews abstained from these later votes.
Andrews, who has received no campaign funding from developers, held a news conference earlier in the day charging that pro-ICC developer Kingdon Gould and his family had used a “gaping loophole” in Maryland campaign finance law to give more than $129,000 to state and local politicians since 1999, including $52,500 to the candidacies of present Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.
Ehrlich is credited with reviving the ICC after his predecessor, Gov. Parris Glendening rendered plans moribund. Ehrlich campaigned on building the road and has made it a transportation priority of his administration.
Andrews noted that Ehrlich, during his election campaign, had denounced the “culture of corruption in Annapolis,” but instead he and Steele have become a major part of the problem.
The Gould family, and their company, Konterra, working through at least a dozen limited partnerships, limited liability corporations, and real estate trusts, as well as family members, made their largest contributions to Ehrlich and Steele, Andrews said. The individuals and companies gave sums ranging from $4,500 to $9,000 to Douglas Duncan, Montgomery County executive; Wayne Curry, then Prince George’s County executive; Janet Owens, Anne Arundel County executive; Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, and smaller sums to other local officials, including several Montgomery County Council members.
Both proposed ICC routes pass near Konterra-owned development property around Laurel.
“The governor always has and always will follow the law,” said Henry Fawell, spokesman for Ehrlich. “This is all an attempt to distract attention from the fact that an overwhelming number of Montgomery County constituents want this road, and his voice is in the minority.”
Support for the ICC is not a campaign finance issue, said Councilman George A. Leventhal.
“I support campaign finance reform, however, I do not believe support for the ICC is based on political contributions,” he said. “I think support for the ICC is based on desire and recognition that we need to invest in transportation infrastructure that is much needed and much neglected.”
The council approval Tuesday is just one more step in a continuing process before the road can be built. Financing, including controversial anticipated federal highway revenue bonds, still needs the approval of the General Assembly.
The Prince George’s County Council has rejected the ICC.
During Andrews’ press conference, he was asked how he explained polls that show that many local residents support the road.
“It’s important for people to understand that the ICC will not bring traffic relief, thought it was sold as traffic relief,” he said. “Developers want the public to subsidize this highway that will help them . . . through opening up new areas for development,” Andrews said.
He noted that the State Highway Administration’s own Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in early December showed that the ICC would not relieve Beltway congestion, would increase congestion on north-south roads, and decrease it only slightly on east-west routes.
In the last election, Duncan campaigned on an “End Gridlock” platform, bringing along a group of new, like-minded council members, Andrews said. That End Gridlock slogan has almost disappeared, he said.
There’s a reason for that, said Bobby Walton, Andrews’ staff member who did the research tracking campaign contributions using the State Board Of Elections campaign finance database, the federal campaign database, and, she noted, the Internet search engine Google.
“There’s a black hole in our electronic filing of campaign information. So-called non-continuing committees, such as the End Gridlock slate, need file only paper reports,” Walton said, making searches of the information more difficult and allowing contributors anonymity.
Identification requirements to obtain the information, Walton said, have a “chilling effect” on those seeking data.
The General Assembly must change the law and Ehrlich and Steele must show leadership and support this change, Andrews said. He said the law must be written to limit contributions from any individual or corporation so that different forms of a single corporate entity can’t give multiple times.
“Steele got $20,000 on one day from five different Konterra – or Gould -related entities; Ehrlich $18,000,” Andrews said.
“We’re not going to comment on this,” said Regan Hopper, spokesman for Steele.