Brown hosts influential guests in Redskins stadium skybox

Taxpayer costs for food and drink run up to $1,400 a game

November 22, 2013|By Luke Broadwater and Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

As he runs for governor, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown has hosted politically influential guests — including lobbyists, campaign contributors and union leaders — in the state's skybox at the Redskins' stadium, records show.

Brown's guests during the 2012 and 2013 football seasons have included well-connected lobbyists Earl Adams Jr. and Major F. Riddick Jr., pastors from significant Prince George's County churches and the supervisor of a state trooper who issued a report criticizing the behavior of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a rival in the governor's race.

Government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland — which has been critical of how the state's top politicians use stadium boxes — renewed its call for more tickets to go to community volunteers, advocates for children and others without much political influence.

"We absolutely would like it to be transformed to reward community leaders instead of politically connected people," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the organization's director. "There's nothing illegal or nefarious about giving the tickets to politically connected people, but this could be a way to help kids, making it more meaningful than a political tool."

Records about the skybox — released to The Baltimore Sun in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request — also show that during the 2012 season, Brown charged $5,600 to the taxpayers for food and drink for him and his guests over 10 home games. In the first three games of 2013, Brown's party spent $3,000 on concessions, including $1,400 during Washington's Sept. 9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Officials have said there is no formal policy that determines which people should be invited to stadium suites. Brown's office has said he uses the state's box at FedEx Field in Landover as a way to "maintain and foster relationships."

While Gov. Martin O'Malley typically plays host in the state's box at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, he has delegated to Brown use of the box at the Redskins' stadium, officials have said. Brown is from Prince George's County.

Ethics rules prohibit politicians from accepting sporting tickets as gifts from those who do business with the state, but they say nothing about politicians distributing such tickets. Common Cause has previously called on the administration to establish a written policy for choosing guests.

Asked about his use of the box, Brown issued a statement saying that if elected governor, he planned to make the tickets more widely available.

"Under a Brown-Ulman administration, we will make the state's tickets to sporting and other events available to a wide audience by establishing a more formal process to distribute these tickets to community-based non-profits and state government employees who demonstrate outstanding service," Brown said in the statement. "These events bring our communities together and it's important for us to include as many of our fellow Marylanders as possible." His office said he has not attended a game so far this season.

Emails released by the lieutenant governor's office show people sometimes request tickets to the box — including politicians such as Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector and Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks — but Brown's office also invites selected guests.

Brown frequently invites his staff and high-ranking Democrats to the box, including first lady Katie O'Malley, Secretary of State John P. McDonough and Rep. Donna Edwards, who has called for the Redskins to change their name.

Some of Brown's guests in the past year have been lobbyists and campaign donors. For instance, Riddick, a former chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, attended the Dec. 30, 2012 game against the Dallas Cowboys.

"Major said he is not trying to be greedy, but if you have a parking pass it would be great," Riddick's aide wrote in an email to Brown's staff after obtaining two tickets to the game.

Riddick, now a lobbyist, has along with his wife contributed almost $35,000 to candidates since 2005. O'Malley has received $3,800 and Brown $2,350, but Riddick also gave $250 to Gansler in 2007. Five businesses Riddick represents before state government have also contributed since 2005. One, Gantech, has given $23,770, $1,000 of which went to Brown during the current election cycle.

Another stadium guest was Bruce Plaxen, chairman of the state trial lawyers' political action committee. Plaxen, who received three tickets to watch Washington defeat the Ravens last year, is a significant contributor in his own right, having given almost $10,000 since 2005, $2,500 of it toward the re-election of the O'Malley-Brown ticket in 2010. More important, though, is his role in helping direct the PAC's contributions of more than $66,000 since 2010. Brown has received at least $7,000 of that money, $1,000 toward the current race.

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