Thursday, March 26, 2009

Campaign Finance Loophole Case Study: William Rickman

Maryland is notorious for its lax campaign finance laws. The state’s infamous “LLC loophole” allows a business owner to found an unlimited number of limited liability companies and have them direct huge amounts of money to candidate accounts. Today we look at one individual who has made good use of that loophole: race track owner William Rickman.

William M. Rickman, Jr. owns Ocean Downs Racetrack in Berlin, MD and Delaware Park in Wilmington, DE. Both tracks feature horse racing; the latter track has slots. Rickman also owns W. M. Rickman Construction Company LLC, a family construction business based in Shady Grove, MD.

Rickman has been working for many years to gain permission to operate slot machines at his Ocean Downs site. He has been a prolific campaign contributor. But he does not contribute merely as an individual – he has an array of business entities that steer cash to politicians. We have identified three individuals and eight firms operating from his business and home addresses that have collectively given $344,320 to state and local politicians since 1999:

The state’s contribution limit for individuals is $4,000 per cycle. But Rickman’s use of multiple corporate entities for campaign contributions is perfectly legal under state law. Below are all candidate accounts that have received at least $4,000 from Rickman’s network since 1999:

In the 2007 Special Session, the General Assembly passed HB 4, the constitutional amendment for slots that was later approved by voters. The amendment authorizes a “video lottery operation license” at five sites, including “Worcester County, within 1 mile of the intersection of Route 50 and Route 589.” Below is a satellite map of that area roughly corresponding to a 1-mile range:

See the rounded object to the northeast of the intersection? That’s Ocean Downs racetrack. How fortunate for Rickman!

William Rickman is no better or worse than any other business or special interest in Maryland. Everyone with an issue before state or local governments has an irresistible incentive to use every legal measure possible to gain maximum political leverage. The politicians may never get rid of the LLC loophole because incumbents and parties receive so much money from it. But unless they take action against it, the above history will repeat itself... forever.