Big Money Behind Maryland Speed Camera Cash Grab

April 23, 2009
Governor O'Malley with his favorite thing: Money

They sure do love money

TheNewspaper.com has dissected what happened in the Maryland legislature to compel legislators to adopt a policy that is obviously contrary to the majority of residents (evidence suggests that opposition is as high as 80% against). You may not be surprised to learn some lawmakers value cash in their pockets more than anything else. Full article:

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign into law recently passed legislation authorizing a massive expansion in the use of speed cameras throughout the state. The measure is the culmination of a coordinated effort by photo enforcement companies, their lobbying firms and the insurance industry to sway the opinions of key legislators. TheNewspaper reviewed state records over the past ten years and found that parties with a direct financial interest in automated ticketing showered members of the Maryland General Assembly and the governor with $707,725 in gifts and campaign cash.

The official legislative analysis for Senate Bill 277 predicted $65,335,400 in new photo ticket revenue at the state level by 2014. The private contractor selected to run the program will pocket $9,783,700. Because a number of localities implementing their own programs expect equally generous levels of revenue, four traffic camera specialists had an incentive to make a long-term strategic investment in Maryland’s legislative process. American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of Arizona, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) of Texas, Sigma Space/Optotraffic of Maryland and Traffipax of Germany together wrote checks to lawmakers worth $183,780 between 1999 and 2009.

To ensure the best reception for their proposals, these firms also retained heavy-hitting lobby shops with their own history of providing $213,055 in financial support to the campaigns of influential state lawmakers. ATS hired Capitol Strategies for $41,000; Sigma hired Rifkin Livingston Levitan LLC for $68,873; Traffipax hired Gildea Schmidt LLC for $50,000; and ACS hired Alexander Cleaver PA for $211,453. Some local governments even got into the act and spent taxpayer money on speed camera lobbying efforts, like Prince George’s County which hired Darryl Kelley LLC for $47,500.

The extra money spent by ACS made an impression on lawmakers serving on four state legislative committees. The ACS lobby shop, Alexander and Cleaver, feted these members with $6286 in food and wine from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Annapolis. Similarly, the American Automobile Association (AAA) threw a $10,933 party at the Lowe House Office Building for General Assembly members to build good will for the full range of AAA’s legislative agenda.

Insurance companies like AAA, Geico, Nationwide and State Farm have an intense interest in the promotion of photo radar and red light cameras. These companies collect millions in extra premium revenue in states like Arizona, California, Colorado and Illinois where certain categories of photo tickets carry license points. As a result, these companies lobbied heavily in favor of Maryland’s photo ticketing plan.

“AAA Mid-Atlantic supported the statewide bill to ensure continuity throughout the state in terms of practice and enforcement,” AAA said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Geico, Nationwide and State Farm together kicked in $293,671 in campaign donations to ensure lawmakers paid attention to their favorite issues, including speed cameras.

For the photo ticketing firms, it makes sense to invest $555,106 in direct lobbying and campaign expenses when the possible payoff is at least $9.8 million. A growing number of ordinary Maryland residents, however, want to keep that victory short-lived. Last week, Maryland for Responsible Enforcement began the process of circulating a petition that would give voters a chance in November to repeal the statewide photo radar legislation. In just a few days, 662 members signed up on the new group’s Facebook page.

The group CameraFraud.com has already collected thousands of signatures for a similar effort to ban photo enforcement in Arizona, and the group’s national capital branch supports the Maryland referendum. Once on the ballot, no photo enforcement program has ever survived a public vote. Earlier this month, for example, 86 percent of voters in Sulphur, Louisiana voted to reject speed cameras.

(reprinted with permission)


Speed Cameras Attract Lobbyists in Annapolis

February 10, 2009

The statewide speed camera bills currently being discussed, and soon to be voted on, by the Maryland General Assembly have been the subject of intensive lobbying efforts.

According to Maryland state lobbying disclosures, the company which runs Montgomery County’s speed camera program, Texas based ACS State and Local Solutions, currently retains a team of at least 8 lobbyists at one of the state’s most successful lobbying firms, Alexander & Cleaver. The State Ethics Commission releases an annual report on companies spending over 50,000 on lobbying activities, and ACS has been on that list each year from 2006-2008.

In 2007, prior to the nearly successful statewide speed camera bill, they spent $144,346.74 on lobbying activities. ACS spent an additional $81,460.13 in 2008 through October 31, 2008 on this effort. ACS’s lobbying activities during the 2008 general Assembly included $6286.13 on two banquets at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on January 29 and February 6, 2008 for members of the House Environmental Matters Senate Judicial Proceedings, House Appropriations, and Senate Budget and Taxation Committees.

It will not be known how much they are spending during the 2009 legislative session until after the General Assembly ends in April.

Texas Based ACS (under the names Affiliated Computer Services and ACS Government Committee) made campaign contributions in 2007-2008 to the following Maryland officials:
• Governor O’Malley (who is pushing the statewide speed camera bills)
• Senate President Mike Miller (who sponsored the 2008 and 2009 legislation)
• Comptroller Peter Franchot (who oversees state contracts).
• John L. Bohanan Jr, ( District 29B, St Mary’s County Delegate and Deputy Majority Whip )

The company which provides camera hardware to ACS, Traffipax (which is the US subsidiary of Robot Visual Systems based in Monheim, Germany), paid $50,000.00 on lobbying activities in 2007. Insurance companies are also weighing in heavily, with State Farm Insurance Companies, Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, Nationwide Insurance Company, and the Maryland Insurance Council all making the list of big lobbying spenders in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, local governments hoping to cash in on the revenue have used public funds to hire

Speed camera van

Speed camera van

lobbyists. Prince George’s County hired the firm “Darryl A. Kelley & Associates, LLC”, listed “speed monitoring systems” as one of 4 subjects, and reported spending $47,500.00 in taxpayer dollars on the effort in 2008. The City of Bowie made a similar disclosure, listing speed cameras as one of 6 topics which they paid the firm “O’Malley, Miles, Nylen, & Gilmore, P.A.” a total $37,000 in taxpayer dollars to lobby for in 2008.

The Montgomery County government did not specifically disclose any lobbying spending for more speed cameras. However they do use taxpayer funded resources as part of a PR campaign for the Safe Speed program. The County Council and County Executive (all of whom belong to the same political party) control the content broadcast over Cable County Montgomery, which receives approximately $2million in taxpayer dollars annually, and which frequently broadcasts PR pieces for the Safe Speed program without inviting critics to present opposing viewpoints. Montgomery County also uses taxpayer funded police resources to respond to letters and emails sent to the County Executive. StopBigBrotherMD.org has confirmed that using police resources to respond to letters on this POLITICAL subject is a standard practice for the county executive, and we wonder whether he ever reads any of the many letters which are critical of the county’s position.