I’m thankful for the recommendations and legislative work the citizen-led Ethics Reform Task Force, the League of Women Voters, County Executive Jan Gardner and the majority of the County Council accomplished for Frederick County. A blog post on Red Maryland (redmaryland.com/2017/02/why-does-jan-gardner-oppose-ethics-reform/) criticized Gardner for opposing Sen. Michael Hough’s alternative ethics bill (“Ahead of meeting to discuss ethics proposals, Hough files alternative bill,” Frederick News-Post, Feb. 1).
Deep ethics reform is a net positive for Frederick County, and I will not argue against it. But in my mind it is ill-advised for Hough to singularly introduce omnibus-level legislation, which carries little chance of passage, all for the sake of stirring the local political pot. In other words, I’m not sold on Hough’s “alt-ethics.”
The blog’s author, a Hough donor from 2010, implies that the Democrat Gardner’s opposition to the alternative bill has a direct correlation with two recent donations to her campaign fund. One donation was $500 from Comcast. Another was a $500 donation from Mr. Ivan Lanier, a lobbyist hired to bring the downtown hotel to fruition. Neither of the campaign contributions Red Maryland claims actually poses a conflict or would be affected by Hough’s bill.
For example, Frederick County has hired a third-party consultant to negotiate a new franchise agreement with Comcast. Those negotiations begin next month, meaning that there has been an entire year between these two activities. It is wildly interesting that Hough and his supporters chose Comcast and players in the downtown hotel issue as examples. Hough himself accepted a donation of $960.60 from Comcast a week before the 2014 election. In just the past two years, Hough and his Republican colleague, Delegate Kathy Afzali, have both received donations from hotel proponent Lanier, totaling $1,500 and $250, respectively.
Of deeper interest is the reality that Hough and Afzali took in donations from hotel opponent Randy Cohen. Afzali received $1,500 and Hough received $3,500. I have listened to Mr. Cohen’s s public comments about his opposition to the downtown hotel and, to be clear, I’ve found him to be a sincere individual and understand his position on this issue. As public records show, I donated to Gardner back in 2014. But this is not about who can read campaign finance report spreadsheets the best or who can outlast the other when playing a game of tag in the blogosphere. Rather, what needs to be made clear is that both Hough and Afzali are equal opportunity fundraisers.
Umak is the executive director of Frederick County Fact Check.