ANNAPOLIS — The polluted Chesapeake Bay won’t be cleaned up until campaign financing and public funding of large infrastructure projects are scrubbed, say legislators on all sides of environmental issues.
“There’s enormous pressure from financial interests all the time to develop. Unless local officials are constantly vigilant, it’s death by 1,000 cuts,” said Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery.
Development is just one of the pressures affecting bay health. Wetlands, forests and any land not covered by impervious surfaces, such as pavement or houses, are essential to allow water to soak into and be filtered through the ground, rather than racing through streets and storm sewers, carrying household chemicals into streams and ultimately the bay.
“A few extra trees taken down here, a few extra feet of impervious surface there — individually not that important, but globally it’s devastating,” Frosh said.
Frosh has proposed a change in campaign finance law designed to make development contributions more transparent. His bill would require that campaign finance contributions from two or more related businesses be attributed to one business entity if one is a wholly-owned or a majority-controlled subsidiary of another.
“Campaign finance reform and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay are certainly related,” agreed Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard, who has filed a House bill identical to Frosh’s.
Probably the most recent, high-profile example of developer influence on the political process is that of the Inter-county Connector, an 18-mile road planned to connect Interstates 270 and 95. The road was held up for decades over environmental concerns, among others, but recently has been put on the fast track by Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration. Ehrlich campaigned on building the road, which had been mothballed by his predecessor Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Last week, Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews presented research showing that Ehrlich, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, and several other politicians had received at least $129,000 in contributions since 1999 from one developer, Kingdon Gould Jr. and his family’s proposed Laurel development, Konterra.
Konterra is at the eastern end of proposed routes for the ICC. A new letter from the Environmental Protection Agency reiterating its concerns about wetlands destruction from ICC development surfaced last week, the same day Andrews released his data on Konterra campaign contributions to top Maryland officials.
Frosh’s legislation could apply to the Konterra-related contributions: Gould, his family, and at least a dozen different limited liability corporations and other entities related to Konterra had made these contributions, with Steele, for example, on one day receiving $20,000 in five checks, each at the legal contribution limit of $4,000, according to Andrews’ office.
Ehrlich’s spokesman has said his boss did nothing wrong and Steele declined comment.
All health and environmental programs are jeopardized by influential campaign cash, said, Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery.
“Until there is campaign finance reform, not only won’t the Chesapeake Bay be cleaned up,” but children’s and senior’s health will continue to be adversely impacted, she said. “My Clean Cars Bill is suffering like other environmental bills as a result of all the money that business groups have to spend on influencing legislation.”
Grosfeld’s bill would reduce vehicle emissions, which are implicated in poor bay health and blamed for skyrocketing rates of asthma, cancer, and other lung diseases.
Grosfeld is also a co-sponsor, with Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, of campaign finance reform legislation.
“Until we get rid of the corrupting influence of big money and big influence, we won’t make any significant gains in social and economic policy” including bay cleanup, Pinsky said. He is calling for public financing of campaigns, as Arizona and Maine now do.
Significant strides have been made in cleaning up bay health, said the chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, Delegate Maggie L. McIntosh, D-Baltimore. The so-called flush fee, a surcharge on all sewage and septic systems, passed last year was “landmark legislation (that) moves us light years ahead in terms of protecting the bay.”
Passage of that legislation and other environmental reforms show campaign finance reform is not needed, McIntosh said.
Other state funding issues are compounding the problems, said Delegate Murray D. Levy, D-Charles. While Levy favors building the ICC, he is very concerned about the proposed funding mechanism, which relies on GARVee bonds, which are repaid from future federal highway revenues.
“This large slug of borrowing will crowd out for a number of years other capital needs, including schools and bay cleanup,” Levy said.
Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, also supports the ICC, but is even more passionately opposed to the funding mechanism.
“We are not going to mortgage Maryland’s economic future to bail out the Maryland Transportation secretary who has been told by his boss to build the ICC or be fired,” he said.
– 30 – CNS-3-18-05