Baltimore City’s Riot-based news cycles can make – or break – a politician’s career.
Every public official on your social media feed talking about the Baltimore Uprising and rebuilding the city is running for something in 2016’s Democrat primary elections. That includes rising star Councilman Nick Mosby and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
The elections come a year later than democratically appropriate, and the simple truth is that whoever wins that primary will win the general election in November. With that change in date, it’s no longer just city races: On top of the Presidential campaign, there’s also an open U.S. Senate seat inspiring a vicious primary. Ignoring for now the danger of a one-party city government, it’s important to remember that the Uprising is not happening in a political vacuum.
I resigned from the campaign that day, but the candidate did secure money from big firms and the endorsement of the police
When running a candidate for a citywide race years ago — a nice person, likeable and with a great civil rights background — I went to a number of fundraising meetings where we met with major players at Venable LLP, the city’s foremost corporate legal firm, T. Rowe Price, its foremost global investment management firm, and Whiting-Turner, its foremost construction firm, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). These meetings went far better than I had any right to expect, and unfortunately it was in the FOP meeting that I discovered why: My candidate had been pledging to support a policy of martial law for the poorest black neighborhoods in order to secure support.
It’s hard to call it specifically racist, since the candidate was black. When I requested an explanation, the candidate was completely willing to give one: it was a policy they were being asked to endorse from which they did not perceive danger, one that secured money and support from those powers that were needed in order to be elected, and it had proven a successful strategy for two popular black mayors outside of Baltimore. And it worked. I resigned from the campaign that day, but the candidate did secure money from the big firms and the endorsement of the police.
We’ve got to dig deeper if we want to challenge those who really control this city
It seems that other city officials made a similar pledge. You may have recognized this policy of martial law, in not just the curfew and use of National Guard troops and surveillance aircraft in the aftermath of the riots, but in the actual police strategy that sparked the riots themselves and the long-standing Bush-administration-supported state-city partnership to spy on protesters. It should be noted that the Baltimore Sun cited T. Rowe Price and Venable as the two firms that publicly declared early closures on April 27, on the advice of the Police, just hours before the outbreak of the riots.
These strategies are not one-offs. They are supported by policies of expanded “loitering zones” which give police the ability to arrest anyone for any reason. They are supported by the institutional practice of “rough rides,” like the one that may have been responsible for Freddy Gray’s severed spine,– as well as the culture of improper arrests that put him in that van in the first place. These policies have been publicly decried by Baltimore’s politicians, but too much progress has already been made since the Uprisings to simply fall for the election-year rhetoric of figureheads. We’ve got to dig deeper if we want to challenge those who really control this city.
To undertake such a task, we’ve got to delve into the notoriously unsexy topic of political fundraising. In broad strokes, the political money in Baltimore, runs primarily through two firms, Martin-Lauer Associates run by Colleen Martin-Lauer, and Rice Consulting run by Rachel Rice.
Martin-Lauer, whose public and online presence is intentionally non-existent, is the finance force behind former-Baltimore-Mayor-and-then-Maryland-Governor-and-now-Presidential-candidate Martin O’Malley and also behind O’Malley’s hand-picked successor, current-Mayor-and-former-City-Council-President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Impressive though that level of power is, Martin-Lauer also counts among her clients City Council Vice-President Ed Reisinger and City Councilmembers Jim Kraft, Nick Mosby, Bobby Curran, Pete Welch, Mary-Pat Clarke, Brandon Scott, Sharon Greene Middleton and Bill Cole, as well as an astonishing number of other elected Democrats across the state, including the Baltimore Uprising’s hero-of-the-day, States’ Attorney Mosby. That’s at least nine of the fifteen-member council, plus the Mayor herself.
The details of political fundraising can seem simultaneously daunting and inconsequential
Many of the Democrat challengers to Martin-Lauer clients, usually less successful on the city level but still wildly impressive in the state legislature, are run through Rice Consulting, though Rice counts two Councilmembers and one City States’ Attorney among her clients.
While Rice puts some of her clients publicly on her website, Martin-Lauer is bigger and incredibly secretive. Finding these client-consultant connections, however, is not nearly as complicated as the secrecy that shrouds them would suggest, though a bit of insider knowledge helps. Simply Google “Friends of [politician]” and “[first name of Martin-Lauer employee]@martin-lauer.com” and you’ll find the invitations to fundraisers telling you to RSVP to [first name of Martin-Lauer employee]@martin-lauer.com and to send your checks made out to Friends of [politician] to Martin-Lauer Associates. If you’re less trusting, a similar exercise can be done with Rice Consulting.
The details of political fundraising can seem simultaneously daunting and inconsequential, but despite the unsexy nature of the problem, it’s important information. Over the past twenty years, political power has been consolidated into the hands of very few, and strangely, since the majority-black city’s government has followed demographics (25 years late), the power has changed hands in the opposite direction, as major black power brokers like Julius Henson have been pushed aside by the silent Martin-Lauer.
There is a good chance my experience is not singular, and that the FOP and Baltimore’s big political donors have been historically pushing politicians to sacrifice poor black neighborhoods in exchange for vital electoral support. It would confirm what activist Dayvon Love described eloquently on MSNBC:
“I think people reduce racism to individual white folks in leadership, black people who are succumbed to white folks, and I think Baltimore just shows the sophistication of white supremacy, and how it operates, how it takes black figures, put[s] them in institutional positions to give the veneer of justice, when really the same institutional arrangement exists.”
The money is the force behind that transaction. That’s why this matters. And it is for this reason we should in fact be thankful for these firms’ consolidation of political-financial power: we are now easily able to follow the funds that grease Baltimore’s political wheels by watching what flows through the filters of Martin-Lauer Associates and Rice Consulting.
We think of big money and secretive interactions behind the scenes in politics and we immediately conjure visions of supervillains and corrupt power-brokers in smoke-filled rooms, but it’s never that simple. Sure, the aforementioned clients and consultants are the ones most often talking about “Helping Local Businesses” in Baltimore to recover by going out for Bloody Marys and brunches in Federal Hill or Hampden without ever touching the Blue Light districts where buying local would feed the most undernourished side of the City’s economy. But it must also be stated that these fundraising consultancy firms are wildly successful in progressive causes such as marriage equality and environmental conservation. The firms themselves are not deserving of our ire, they are simply the conduit for corruption, a mere symptom of a far broader systemic cancer, and if they weren’t bundling for white supremacist systemic interests, someone else would be.
It’s worth investigating what your own city representative secretly gave away in exchange for a victory
This article aims merely to shed light upon them so that you can see that the trail of money that feeds the bulk of the city’s elected officials, regardless of race, stems from the same places and is in all likelihood contingent upon the same promises of oppression of the already-oppressed.
I have no way of knowing, and therefore I am not suggesting, that any of these consultants or corporations mandate endorsement of martial law and anti-civil rights policies as a condition of their assistance. But I know that these firms helped my own candidate secure vital campaign treasures, and that they did it by promising more broken-windows policing, and worse, to top-level executives of these major institutions. It might help explain why Mayor Rawlings-Blake defended the Baltimore Police Department’s work in the aftermath of the Uprisings, in a month whose murder rate is the City’s highest in 40 years. So it’s worth investigating what your own city representative secretly gave away in exchange for a victory.
Finding this information is not complicated, though Baltimore’s campaign finance monitoring system is deeply insufficient. Many of the members of Baltimore’s government fail to file their finance reports properly, and often the reports that are filed don’t manage being digitized, so the citizens of Baltimore are left without an immediate solution and must resort to bulky requests directly to the Board of Elections. However, what is available can be found here.
What did they sacrifice for that money and how willing are they to bite the hand that feeds them?
There’s incredibly valuable information within the reports of those politicians who have properly filed, such as, for one shocking but important example, the sizeable contribution made by the Fraternal Order of Police to the 2014 campaign of hero-of-the-day States’ Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
It was a well-known political practice, before Citizens United removed all the boundaries on political donations, to have many employees of a firm donate sizeable sums and then reimburse such donations through year-end “performance bonuses” or, for smaller businesses and developers, to simply donate through family and friends and reimburse materially the out-of-pocket costs. This complicates the search, but you can cross-reference the reports you find with, say, the names of the corporate leadership of T. Rowe Price or the names of the Partners and Associates at Venable LLP, or the names of friends and LLCs of major developers to see which firms are quietly investing in the city’s future.
It shouldn’t be surprising that politicians are taking money from major businesses. It’s part of the political game. And it’s even alright that they’re opportunistically using the riots to make their political careers: many of these people believe in using their political position to make positive change for their city. But if they’ve taken donations from these groups, it’s worth asking what they sacrificed for that money, and just how willing they are to bite the hand that feeds them and act against the interests of major developers and businesses.
Give your elected officials no quarter if they are taking money from and supporting white supremacist systemic interests
There is greatness in Baltimore, something worth believing in. But the people who make this city great are not those sitting in City Hall or the State House or even Congress. In fact, the best of this city are actively fighting against them, from combating environmental racism to building para-state childcare facilities to engaging in academic activism. If you’re tempted to help in Baltimore City, don’t do it by working a campaign or donating to a politician or a redevelopment effort by some big public figure with dirty connections. Go direct to the source: ask the activists in the City how you can help. They’ve been fighting every day for decades with zero budget and they know the city in a way the politicians and institutions never will.
And change is happening: The protests are the reason State’s Attorney Mosby charged those officers with murder. The protests are the only reason a bill to restore voting rights to 40,000 formerly-incarcerated citizens, 65% of them black, got pushed through the Maryland state legislature last month, though it got vetoed in the end by the Governor. These are baby steps. The Baltimore Uprising can’t end in the streets. It must continue on every level, past the elections in April, and incorporate itself into the core of the city’s governance structure.
Baltimore’s future is not going to be changed by community figureheads acting as political apparatchiks for the moneyed and well-armed interests that until last month quietly ran the City. Give your elected officials no quarter if they are taking money from and supporting white supremacist systemic interests. Now you know how to find out if they are.
Update: Three days after The Leveller released this article, The Baltimore Sun reports that the campaign of Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Martin Lawyer Associates have ended their 8-year-long partnership. As the funnel of political finance becomes yet more secretive, we must now be even more vigilant and aware of who the big players are supporting in 2016.
Image: Keith Allison
The Money Trail of Baltimore’s White Supremacist Politics by Zachary Gallant is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.