I have been looking over the various campaign finance reports for Howard County Board of Education candidates looking for significant items that stand out. I am reading through individuals contributions, money from elected officials, PAC money, political transfers and other significant items in those reports. This item from Howard Hughes Corporation is not a surprise to many…but it is noteworthy in this election cycle.
Howard County Board of Education member and candidate for Howard County Board of Education in District 4 in 2020 Jen Mallo held a campaign event back in March (see photos from Facebook here). The event location (10960 Grantchester Way, Columbia, MD 21044) was provided for free (or as an in-kind contribution to her campaign) by the Howard Hughes Corporation.
Here is the campaign finance report noting that transaction (see page 10): https://scotteblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Mallo.pdf
Nothing is legally wrong with what Jen Mallo accepted. Nothing is legally wrong with what the Howard Hughes Corporation provided to the candidate. I want to make sure everyone reading this article understands those facts. That being said…there are going to be some that read this and will be concerned about “Developer Influence” in the Howard County Board of Education race in this election cycle.
I reached out to Jen Mallo about this and she provided me the following statement “A supporter arranged for the use of The Howard Hughes Corporation room for my kick-off event. As no money was paid for the room use, it is considered to be an in-kind donation and has been recorded as such. All food, drink, drink-ware, flatware, plates, other event materials and campaign materials were supplied by the candidate or a supporter and were listed by individual donor in the campaign finance report.”
I reached out to Greg Fitchitt (President, Columbia | The Howard Hughes Corporation) for comment and got this back ” Howard Hughes and I don’t have any specific comment to make as to the contribution to Ms. Mallo’s campaign, but I would note that The Howard Hughes Corporation contributes to the campaigns of many elected officials, and has made similar in-kind contributions to many candidates in the past, always in full compliance with local and state regulations.”
Some people will read this article and ask why I am reporting on a $150 In-Kind contribution. Some people will read this and be upset at the major developer in Howard County is providing a resource at no cost to a candidate for Board of Education.
For me…I want to know if I can get that space for that amount of time for $150. I mean that seriously…some day after the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is under control and things open back up again and get back to some kind of normal I would love to use that space and if that is the cost to the public I will be happy to schedule future events there…heck…I know what other spaces around Columbia cost. I have not received an answer to that question yet from Howard Hughes.
Also…developer influence in local elections is talked about a lot around here (usually tied to County Executive or County Council elections). Howard County APFO rules relating to where developers can or can not develop new residential buildings is directly tied to school capacity…meaning the Howard County Board of Education and their redistricting process has a direct tie to developer interest. That is just a fact…and should not be ignored. So a (or the major) developer in Howard County providing an in-kind contribution to a BOE candidate is going to raise some flags. The candidate and company had to know that in advance…right?
I am sure I will catch some flack for pointing out what is on a public campaign finance document…and I am sure some will say that this is not a big deal (and maybe it is not to you)…but to say it is not noteworthy (I think) is wrong given the role the Howard County Board of Education plays in development activities here in this county as it relates to school capacity.
Again…I want to finish this post with the FACT that no one did anything wrong here. Everything is perfectly legal. Any company has the ability and right to provide in-kind contributions to candidates running for office and candidates have every legal right to accept a variety of in-kind contributions from businesses and people (up to the legal monetary limits). It actually happens a lot in local elections. Heck…I have been known to provide in-kind contributions to candidates running for office.
Have thoughts…do you think this is significant or is this not a big deal at all…let me know in the comments.