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.

Scott E

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for tracking campaign contributions- it really is important. I do, however, think we need to keep them in context. I’m sure Jen Mallo appreciated the use of the space for her event, but I think her supporters, of which I am one, would just as happily have gone to her or a supporter’s house. (Remember when people did that? Seems like a long time ago!) The $3,000 that CAPA PAC gave to Sezin Palmer, also running in District 4, is, however, some real money. If Howard Hughes had given Jen Mallo $3,000, I would certainly want to know why. A free spot for an event for a couple of hours? Not so much.

    • The use of space is still considered donation with monetary value. If someone lets you borrow their yacht to host your party, although it is just a venue for your party, but it will seem like a favor you will have to pay back one way or another. As for CAPA, it is no Howard Hughes Corp. CAPA is a non profit and has no monetary gains from particular policy. Howard Hughes is a for-profit developer, who has much to gain from policies. Let’s not mix the two here.

  2. Doesn’t the Ho Co Council, not Board of Ed, write legislation possibly affecting the Howard Hughes Corp.? I don’t think the fact that the CAPA PAC is a non-profit makes the organization benign. The BOE votes on issues that may provide educational opportunity preference to students of the CAPA PAC members and that may directly affect the property value of the CAPA PAC members. If the main concern is influence, given that both contributions to BOE candidates are legal, I am personally not supportive of the CAPA PAC donations. I also think it’s a stretch to suggest that BOE redistricting drives developer interest. I think development drives the need to be redistrict for both school capacity and school equity. The Ho Co Council is responsible for development guidelines. Isn’t this all really basic politics ….. point of view is driven by support or opposition to a candidate’s positions and values?

  3. I absolutely agree with all of your points, especially the unfortunate fact that school districts have a huge impact on property values.

  4. Thank you Scottie for pointing out this blatant conflict of interest. It is not secret that Columbia developers are in overdrive since the 2019 BOE county disaster and Hughes knows very well that fickle investors will leave this Columbia development utopia in a heartbeat like they did and left Hughes parent (ahem predecessor) bankrupt in 2007. They needing her is like thirst needing water…most of us already know that.
    >Tracie Schmidt. ‘ BOE votes on issues that may provide preference to CAPA parents and that may affect property value’. First, those two statements have virtually no connection and not even remotely possible. CAPA is a chinese parent association (to those who didnt google) and how BOE can vote to only benefit chinese students is a mystery. Isnt race-based discriminatory voting unlawful? Oh wait, after 2019 perhaps you afraid the chinese may pull off a similar stunt? (Mallos cohorts really set off a bad precedent but thats beside the point.) But even if so, the preference would be race-based and not polygon or region based so your point is moot. ‘I also think it’s a stretch to suggest that BOE redistricting drives developer interest.’ No its not a stretch, its a fact.Good school districts drives high demand in turn ups the price. Developers go to where demand is. There is still a lot of land available for development in the county and specifically here Hughes corporation has millions of square feet of housing in the pipeline. How those spaces are districted matter and will influence how much they can charge. Dont believe me – go to Zillow or any realtor site and see the school district price link. If that doesnt convince you then ask yourself why did the developer influenced assembly attempt to pass a law that made listing school district in the county unlawful. We know of all these types of tactics that BOE and CE use to serve their powers and donors and the chicanery used to screw the public.

  5. The size of the donation is not irrelevant. That a real estate development corporation which has power to affect how and where people will live donates to a candidate influences him or her. This may have been a soft pedal – nice venue, free snacks, drinks, etc. – but it was a pedal, nonetheless. While the BOE does not approve changes in development or zoning, they do have input to that process.
    Influence need not be quid-pro-quo (Group A donates money and expects a vote up or down on a bill for them directly); it can and usually does involve cultivated an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation. This is often more insidious: what’s the harm in being nice to people who’s goals are counter to your own? Nothing, unless you forget your goals and principles in the process.

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