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4/20/2009Traffic Camera Lobbyists Buy Victory in Maryland Legislature
Four photo ticketing firms spend $555,106 in campaign donations and lobbying for $9.8 million statewide speed camera payoff in Maryland.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) is expected to sign into law recently passed legislation authorizing a massive expansion in the use of speed cameras throughout the state. The measure is the culmination of a coordinated effort by photo enforcement companies, their lobbying firms and the insurance industry to sway the opinions of key legislators. TheNewspaper reviewed state records over the past ten years and found that parties with a direct financial interest in automated ticketing showered members of the Maryland General Assembly and the governor with $707,725 in gifts and campaign cash.
The official legislative analysis for Senate Bill 277 predicted $65,335,400 in new photo ticket revenue at the state level by 2014. The private contractor selected to run the program will pocket $9,783,700. Because a number of localities implementing their own programs expect equally generous levels of revenue, four traffic camera specialists had an incentive to make a long-term strategic investment in Maryland's legislative process. American Traffic Solutions (ATS) of Arizona, Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) of Texas, Sigma Space/Optotraffic of Maryland and Traffipax of Germany together wrote checks to lawmakers worth $183,780 between 1999 and 2009.
To ensure the best reception for their proposals, these firms also retained heavy-hitting lobby shops with their own history of providing $213,055 in financial support to the campaigns of influential state lawmakers. ATS hired Capitol Strategies for $41,000; Sigma hired Rifkin Livingston Levitan LLC for $68,873; Traffipax hired Gildea Schmidt LLC for $50,000; and ACS hired Alexander Cleaver PA for $211,453. Some local governments even got into the act and spent taxpayer money on speed camera lobbying efforts, like Prince George's County which hired Darryl Kelley LLC for $47,500.
The extra money spent by ACS made an impression on lawmakers serving on four state legislative committees. The ACS lobby shop, Alexander and Cleaver, feted these members with $6286 in food and wine from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Annapolis. Similarly, the American Automobile Association (AAA) threw a $10,933 party at the Lowe House Office Building for General Assembly members to build good will for the full range of AAA's legislative agenda.
Insurance companies like AAA, Geico, Nationwide and State Farm have an intense interest in the promotion of photo radar and red light cameras. These companies collect millions in extra premium revenue in states like Arizona, California and Illinois where certain categories of photo tickets carry license points. As a result, these companies lobbied heavily in favor of Maryland's photo ticketing plan.
"AAA Mid-Atlantic supported the statewide bill to ensure continuity throughout the state in terms of practice and enforcement," AAA said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Geico, Nationwide and State Farm together kicked in $293,671 in campaign donations to ensure lawmakers paid attention to their favorite issues, including speed cameras.
For the photo ticketing firms, it makes sense to invest $555,106 in direct lobbying and campaign expenses when the possible payoff is at least $9.8 million. A growing number of ordinary Maryland residents, however, want to keep that victory short-lived. Last week, Maryland for Responsible Enforcement began the process of circulating a petition that would give voters a chance in November to repeal the statewide photo radar legislation. In just a few days, 662 members signed up on the new group's Facebook page.
The group CameraFraud.com has already collected thousands of signatures for a similar effort to ban photo enforcement in Arizona, and the group's national capital branch supports the Maryland referendum. Once on the ballot, no photo enforcement program has ever survived a public vote. Earlier this month, for example, 86 percent of voters in Sulphur, Louisiana voted to reject speed cameras.
Correction: The reference to the AAA reception has been updated to reflect the correct location.
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