Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Speed Camera Companies Boosted Spending On Lobbying

Photo Enforcement Companies spent over $416,000 attempting to influence state legislators from May 2014 through April 2015, according to state ethics disclosures.

Speed Camera Company Xerox spent approximately $245,000 during this period to three lobbying companies.  Lobbyists from the firm Harris Jones & Malone was paid $55,000. $90,000 was paid to Gerard Evan LTD. Another $100,720 was paid to law firm Alexander and Cleaver to conduct lobbying.

(By odd coincidence, Alexander & Cleaver was also the law firm which represented the Town of Morningside in a dispute over access to public records filed by the editor of this website.  The attorney from Alexander & Cleaver argued that the town did not need to produce speed camera calibration records under Maryland's government transparency law because the program was run by speed camera contractor Brekford Corp.  Morningside lost that case.)

Prior to 2013, Xerox had been spending about $176,000 per year on lobbyists.

Xerox holds speed camera contracts with Montgomery County, Baltimore County, and the State of Maryland, as well as several municipalities.  The firm had been placed in an uncomfortable spotlight because they previously were forced to admit that speed cameras they ran under contract with the City of Baltimore were systematically issuing erroneous citations due to what the company referred to as "radar effects".

Speed Camera Contractor Optotraffic spent $47,788.84 on lobbying from 5/1/2014 through 4/30/2015 to the firm Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan, & Silver.  This was almost the same as the $48,091 they spent in the previous year during this same period.

(Again by coincidence, Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan, & Silver is the law firm which Optotraffic retained in a dispute between the Maryland Drivers Alliance and the Town of Brentwood, where Brentwood had delayed access to records about speed camera errors for four years.  Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan, & Silver argued that Optotraffic should not have to produce records in response to a subpoena.  Eventually, after many additional months, documents were produced which showed that some erroneous speed camera tickets had been issued.... but only more than a year after the public records case had been brought to court and after the legislative hearing for which records had been sought to be presented at had passed).

Speed camera manufacturer Gatso paid $60,500 to the firm Greenwill Consulting Group during this period.  Gatso is a dutch owned company which produces the GS-11 radar speed camera which is used in several jurisdictions.  Gatso has attempted to get into the business of contracting directly for speed camera services, rather than merely providing hardware to other contractors.  It was announced last month that Gatso would be acquired by the Swedish firm Sensys AB, another speed camera manufacturer.

American Traffic Solutions paid lobbyists from Greenfield & Kress, P.A. a total of $62,000.  ATS is one of the largest photo enforcement companies in the US, and has tried to get into the speed camera business in Maryland but has so far been unsuccessful in capturing a major contract in this state.  It is possible ATS may be particularly concerned not only about speed cameras, but also about red light camera legislation.  In the last legislative session legislation was proposes which would have prevented red light cameras from being used issue tickets for slow moving right turns, a type of violation which now constitutes the majority of red light camera tickets issued in some jurisdictions.  That bill died in committee.

Lobbyists provide a way for firms to purchase influence in several ways.  First, lobbyists often make large donations to state lawmakers, which then appear under the name of the lobbyist rather than under the firm's name in campaign donation reports.  In addition, some lobbyists have established political connections.  For example one of the lobbyists retained by Xerox was Robert Garagiola, a former state lawmaker and former candidate for US congress who now works for Alexander & Cleaver.  Harris Jones & Malone is also extremely well connected, as demonstrated by the fact that the mayor of Baltimore City actually presided over the wedding of two senior partners in the firm.  In 2013 Harris Jones & Malone  made itself $285,000 for itself lobbying on various issues in Baltimore City alone.

Photo enforcement companies have been worried about legislation considered in the wake of the collapse of Baltimore City's disastrous speed camera program, and ensuring that no additional restrictions would be imposed beyond paper tiger rules passed last year.  That legislation was written by a secret legislative workgroup which included senior officials from agencies which run speed cameras, but opponents of speed cameras were not invited to participate.  One speed camera company declared victory in its press releases after that legislation passed, claiming that the changes in the "reform" bill would have no effect its existing contracts.

In addition, the election of a Republican Governor who had pledged to be more favorable towards motorists has likely raised concerns. During former governor O'Malley's term between November 2006 and October 2014, Xerox and ACS (the company Xerox acquired their speed camera business from) reported a total of $16,500 in campaign donations in Maryland exclusively to democratic candidates and organization.  This included 2014 donations of $4000 to Anthony Brown and $4000 to Ken Ulman, who were running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.   However immediately after Governor Hogan's upset victory over Anthony Brown, Xerox made a $2000 donation to the Maryland Republican Party Central Committee in November 2014, and a $2000 campaign donation in January 2015 to Larry Hogan's Campaign Fund.