Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. collected $100,000 for his re-election campaign at a private fund-raiser held by a business partner of construction company owner Willard J. Hackerman this month, at the same time the governor's aides were contemplating the sale of state preservation land to Hackerman at a below-market price.
Ehrlich raised the money Nov. 4 at the Owings Mills home of Howard S.
Brown, a developer and president of David S. Brown Enterprises. Brown and
Hackerman's Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. are partners in a project to build
a $220 million town center at an Owings Mills Metro station parking lot that
would include a library and university building.
Four days after the fund-raiser, Hackerman bowed to criticism and abandoned
his plan to purchase the 836-acre forest in Southern Maryland for the same
price paid by the state. Hackerman stood to gain up to $7 million in federal
and state tax breaks if he preserved the land, but according to documents
released last week, he intended to build homes with a water view there.
Repercussions from the aborted deal are continuing. Yesterday, state Sen.
Roy P. Dyson, a Southern Maryland Democrat, asked state Attorney General J.
Joseph Curran Jr. for an investigation "to see if there was any criminal
misconduct" involved in the proposed St. Mary's County transaction.
"I believe it is up to the attorney general's office to investigate this
matter," Dyson said in a letter.
Some observers say the appearance of Ehrlich at the fund-raising event
illustrates the unsavory role of money in politics and state affairs.
"I would say that sends a message that if you help raise money for the
governor, you may get special treatment when it comes to bidding on state
properties," said James Browning, executive director of the campaign finance
watchdog group Common Cause/Maryland.
"Tragically, it is the way the system works," Browning said. "It suggests
that raising money for a candidate is the price of doing business ... It is
expected that you help out the campaign with one hand, while you are buying
land from the state with the other hand."
Ehrlich, through a spokesman, would not comment yesterday on the
fund-raising event. Brown and Hackerman did not return telephone calls seeking
John Reith, Ehrlich campaign finance director, said the event at Brown's
home was attended by 100 people who paid $1,000 each for the opportunity to
meet the governor and view the developer's collection of modern art.
Brown had previously supported Democratic candidates, Reith said, and is
part of a growing number of Jewish leaders who appreciate Ehrlich's support of
Israel. The event's co-host was Hanan "Bean" Sibel, a retired food broker who
has been a leading financial backer of U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a
"We're an equal opportunity fund-raiser," Reith said. Hackerman did not
attend the function, he said.
Brown and Hackerman are partners in the development group that was selected
in 2002, prior to Ehrlich's election, to build on a parking lot at the Metro
station. Their group was not chosen through a bidding process but was tapped
after another firm withdrew from the project.
While the parking lot is owned by the state, prior owners are fighting to
get the land back, claiming they have the right to reclaim the property. The
state and Hackerman and Brown are partners in a lawsuit to allow the project
Maryland Transit Administration spokesman Richard Scher said the Ehrlich
administration supports the Owings Mills project and is pleased with the
"The development process is headed in the direction that the MTA wants,"
The governor's office also would not comment yesterday on Sen. Dyson's
request for a criminal investigation into Hackerman's negotiations to purchase
a protected St. Mary's County forest.