Sunday, February 8, 2009

Speed Cameras Attract Lobbyists in Annapolis

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 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. 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.

The scales are somewhat imbalanced. For anti-speed camera efforts, pays $10/year to register its website plus a trivial amount for sign-making materials for DC.CameraFRAUD’s upcoming demonstrations. But then again, we're not trying to get your money.