The way things are going, the Maryland State Lottery Agency might be better off picking the winner of a $75 million computer contract out of a hat. At least there wouldn't be any complaints that the selection process was tainted.
The agency finds itself in the middle of a bitter controversy over this lucrative contract. The biggest lobbying guns in Annapolis have been hired by firms seeking lottery business. All of them are crying "foul!" and using political muscle to tilt the contract in their client's direction.
To make matters worse, state legislators are again threatening to undercut the state's procurement process, which is designed to isolate contract awards from raw politics. The last thing this state needs is political interference reminiscent of the old days of bid-rigging and favoritism.
On one side stands Control Data Corp., holder of the computer contract. It claims the work of a consultant and the lottery agency has been proper and that the selection process should proceed as scheduled. Control Data is represented by the governor's former legislative aide, Alan Rifkin.
On the other side stand GTECH (represented by former Gov. Marvin Mandel and mega-lobbyist Bruce Bereano), General Instruments (James J. Doyle) and Scientific Games (Joseph A. Schwartz). They claim the process favors Control Data. They want the governor or legislature to intervene.
The two sides are throwing around serious allegations: collusion, anti-trust violations, cronyism, corruption, influence-peddling, favoritism and incompetence on the part of lottery officials. It is becoming a dangerously politicized situation.
Maryland's procurement law is regarded as a national model. It was enacted following contract scandals in the 1970s and is designed to shield the selection process from political manipulation. The lottery brouhaha threatens to undermine this much-praised system.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer cannot allow that to happen. He must take steps to keep politicians and influence-peddlers out of the state's contract arena.
A panel of outside experts -- not lottery insiders -- should judge bids on technical superiority and price. The outside consultant hired as an adviser should revise the bid specifications so the agency and bidders are satisfied. At no point should legislators, the governor or the lobbyists be allowed to influence the panel's selection.
When so much money is at stake, the potential for scandal is enormous. Mr. Schaefer ought to give Marylanders every assurance that the new lottery vendor will be chosen on merit and lowest price, not on the basis of political clout.