A bill for Wynn in search of collectors

April 17, 2008|By DAN RODRICKS

No takers on the Al Wynn thing. Not O'Malley. Not even the publicity-seeking missiles Gansler and Franchot. Not a single Democrat and, worse, not a single Republican in this state wants to pursue Al for half of the cost of a $1 million special election that has to be called on account of Al -- can we call you Pal? -- taking a fat-juicy job with a big-time lobbyist outfit in Washington.

What's the matter with these people?

I have plenty of e-mail from readers who agree that Al Wynn needs to be embarrassed into paying at least half the bill, but no public leader willing to take up this cudgel.

Where's their sense of political populism? Where's their sense of sue-the-bum? Where's the joie de vivre?

Previously on The Al Wynn Story: I sent him a bill for $500,000 on behalf of my fellow Marylanders, or at least the people of the 4th Congressional District, seeking half the cost of the special election.

Al, a Democrat who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1992, lost the February primary election to Donna Edwards.

In one of the most flagrant examples of political nyah-nyah, he announced a short time later that he would be leaving his seat early and taking a job in June with a law firm that lobbies Congress and whose clients have given campaign contributions to Al.

It's all so very cozy and grotesque and greedy.

Because of Al's big rush to cash out, the state of Maryland will have to hold a special election to fill his seat -- or else leave the people of the 4th District without a representative in Congress until early next year.

The state says the special election will cost about $1 million to stage.

What I'm saying is: If Al wants to opt out of the implied contract he has with the people who elected him to a full two-year term in 2006, then he, and/or the lobbying firm so eager to get him, ought to pay half of the cost of this election.

I mean, that would be a grand gesture.

I sent Al the bill the other day, and posted two forms of the invoice on my Random Rodricks blog.

Haven't heard a peep from him. He's ignoring the bill. Today's column constitutes a reminder notice.

I wasn't born yesterday. I'm not jejune. I know the guy's not about to run out to Food Lion and get a money order for $500,000, payable to the comptroller of Maryland.

But I'm outraged that Al would do such a thing.

Of course, he has every right to leave Congress. No one can make him stay. But his cash-out to the world of the lobbyist should not be at a cost to the taxpayers.

And if he doesn't see this -- if Dickstein Shapiro LLP doesn't see it -- then someone with standing ought to pursue the matter, perhaps to court.

Certainly there must be some grounds for action.

This is like a divorce, requiring settlement.

Or how about an injunction to keep him from taking his new job until he's settled his obligations to the one he currently has?

I asked some friends who are members of the bar -- and frequent the one I go to -- for their opinions.

They were nice about it. They gave their opinions, but didn't want their names attached to them because (a) they did not feel expert in this realm of the law or (b) I wasn't paying enough.

"Congressman Wynn has the right to resign for any reason he wants to offer," wrote one. "He may have broken his `contract' with the voters of his district, but his only punishment is the end of his political life. If someone with standing in the affected counties where the special election was going to be held wanted to file a taxpayers' suit to prevent the cost of another election -- now that may be possible."

Here's another opinion: "Courts could order a prematurely resigning employee to pay damages for breach of contract. But I suspect they would only do this when the contract explicitly called for the payment of damages in the case of premature resignation -- or such was not quite explicit but nearly so in the contract -- and there was plenty of precedent for doing such in the particular circumstances. I would be very surprised to see a court take such action in the Wynn situation, because there is no such provision and not really even a traditional legal contract that members of Congress enter into."

So you see where I am today. No word from Al about doing the right thing and paying his bill. (We're open to an installment plan, Pal!) I've got nothing but discouraging legal opinions, and no interest from officials, particularly from Maryland Republicans, in fighting the fight.

Maybe I have this all wrong. Public approval of Congress is at all-time lows.

So maybe we should look at Al Wynn's premature departure as addition by subtraction. In fact, we should encourage all members of Congress who want to go work for a lobbyist to go now. We can save the costs of special elections by not having them. Leave their seats empty until next January. Empty seats would be better than the representation we have now.

I rest my case.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks can be heard on Midday, Mondays through Thursdays, noon to 2 p.m., on 88.1 WYPR-FM. Adults with criminal records can obtain information about re-entry programs and jobs by leaving their full names and mailing addresses with Rodricks at 410-332-6166 or the e-mail address above.

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