City paid $13,500 for joint lobbying effort to rout opposition to downtown hotel funding

The City of Frederick paid $13,500 toward lobbying services at the General Assembly to advance efforts to gain some $16 million of state funding for the Downtown Hotel & Conference Center (DH&CC) project. The lobbying was done by Greenwill Consulting of Annapolis.

According to a response to a Public Information Act (PIA) request we filed with the City, Greenwill was formally engaged by the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce which paid the lobbyist’s bills. Costs were shared by five “partners” in the effort to get state funds: Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Frederick County Tourism Council, Frederick County Office of Economic Development, Downtown Frederick Partnership, and the City of Frederick Department of Economic Development. The Chamber of Commerce is the only one of the five that is wholly independent of county and city government. The Downtown Partnership and Tourism Council both rely on a mix of local government and business funds.

The overall lobbying bill is unknown because we don’t yet know what the City’s partners paid. An assumption we made in the first posting here that the cost was split equally between the five partners was incorrect according to City DED director Richard Griffin. That assumption of an even split and a total of $67,500 (5x $13,500) “far overstated the total cost,” Griffin says.

Richard Griffin, director of the City Department of Economic Development who responded to the PIA questions described Greenwill’s role: “Generally the Scope of Work was to monitor legislation and budget hearings regarding the Downtown Frederick Conference Center Project, scheduling meetings with key leadership, educating key members of the budget committees on the Frederick objectives and needs. “

Greenwill is a three person firm with offices near the general assembly office buildings. It’s principal figure is Ivan Lanier, a longtime lobbyist in the state capital. He has two colleagues.

No Greenwill people appeared at any of the public hearings where City, County and business interests spoke. Their job was apparently to advise, and work the offices and corridors on behalf of state grants and loans.

The initial pair of bills (HB1474, SB1038) to get state support for the hotel failed in the House appropriations and the Senate Finance Committee. But a separate pair of bills (HB151, SB191) bypassed those finance committees and after contentious debate were passed with the help of the House and Senate leadership.

The eight member Frederick County delegation was 5 to 3 against the funding.

The hiring of a professional lobbyist on behalf of the City Hotel project came to light at the April 13 event at the site of the proposed hotel. In his speech celebrating the promises of state money for the downtown hotel conference center project Earl Robbins the City’s hotel advisory committee chairman mentioned Greenwill Consulting which he called “our lobbyist” in a list of people and groups he thanked for their help in getting state funds.

Another lobbyist Bruce Bereano hired by Holiday Inn opposed the funding. He spoke at several public hearings, announcing himself as working on behalf of his client.

It seems unusual and controversial for local governments to pay for lobbying services in the state capital, especially when their delegation is divided on the issue.

NOTE: This report has been revised to reflect the fact that lobbying costs were not shared equally, as we had initially assumed. At the weekend it is difficult to ask the others what they paid toward the joint lobbying operation. P Sam

http://www.greenwillgroup.com

PIA# 2016-4-24-075. – Greenwill Consulting Group’s lobbying for downtown hotel

Questions & Answers:

Q1. Was Greenwill engaged by the City? A:No

Q2.If so what were the terms of Greenwill’s engagement? It’s task? What work did it do? A. The Chamber of Commerce holds the contract. Generally the Scope of Work was to monitor legislation and budget hearings regarding the Downtown Frederick Conference Center Project, scheduling meetings with key leadership, educating key members of the budget committees on the Frederick objectives and needs. The term was for the General Assembly Session January – May.

Q3. How many hours did Greenwill bill the City, and how much is it being paid for its work in lobbying on the hotel matter. Or see #4 below

Q4.If Greenwill was not engaged by the City to assist the City advisory committee, who did engage Greenwill, and who did pay for their lobbying services? A. Greenwill was engaged by the Chamber of Commerce. All bills were paid by the Chamber of Commerce. The cost was shared by the partners – Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, Frederick County Tourism Council, Frederick County Office of Economic Development, Downtown Frederick Partnership, and the City of Frederick Department of Economic Development. The City share was $13,500 total.

P Sam 2016-05-13 revised 05-14

Frederick News-Post on lobbying

Price tag for city lobbying on hotel project: $75,000

  • By Danielle E. Gaines dgaines@newspost.com   2016.06.26
  • http://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/politics_and_government/price-tag-for-city-lobbying-on-hotel-project/article_f0ea7388-20c9-5240-9b15-22e0a3883567.html

The city of Frederick has paid more than $75,000 for lobbying efforts on behalf of the downtown hotel and conference center in the past three years.

The city released accounting records Friday, after a Freedom of Information Act request, detailing its contributions to the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying fees since 2014.

Greenwill Consulting Group, an Annapolis-based lobbying firm, is under contract with the Chamber of Commerce. Before 2014, payments for some lobbying efforts were made solely by the chamber, Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said.

For the past three years, the city has shared the cost — with other partners including the county government, Tourism Council of Frederick County and Downtown Frederick Partnership.

Breakdowns for the payments in 2014 — which came just after the 2014 General Assembly session and just before the start of the 2015 session — show that the city gave a majority share of funding that year: $50,000 of an $80,000 total.

The breakdown of contributions by entity were not included in the documents covering payments for the 2016 General Assembly session. But county government paid at least $5,000 toward lobbying efforts, according to a separate Public Information Act request.

The city paid $13,500 for lobbying in October, before the start of the General Assembly session in January. Their most recent payment was made last week, when an additional $12,000 was sent to the chamber, according to the records.

According to a disclosure filed with the Maryland State Ethics Commission, the chamber paid three Greenwill lobbyists a total of $26,800 since November.

Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.

petersamuel comment

  • It’s one thing for the Chamber of Commerce to lobby for taxpayer subsidies for this project, but they’ve taken this to the next level — getting city and county taxpayers to subsidize their lobbying for the subsidies. This is corporate welfare/crony capitalism squared. Shame on the elected officials who allowed this.
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