Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too Rich for Furloughs

As we wrote yesterday, we believe that state legislators are paid too little relative to their job duties. That threatens to shrink the pool of competent people willing to serve and it is one reason why we have not made a big deal about their giving up furlough days in line with state employees. But a few state legislators are genuinely wealthy and would not miss the money, so they have no excuse not to give their pay back to the general fund. Here are three who spent at least $50,000 on their own political campaigns but have turned up their noses at giving back any part of their salaries to the state.

Senator Edward J. Pipkin (R-36)
Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s Counties

Self-Financing, Federal Campaigns: $2,579,057
Self-Financing, State Campaigns: $573,000
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2009: 0
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2010: 0 (So far)

Few people in Maryland’s history, if any, have spent more on their own political races than E.J. Pipkin. A Wall Street trader who made millions selling junk bonds, Pipkin loaned himself $573,000 to knock out six-term Democratic Senate incumbent Walter Baker in 2002. Two years later, Pipkin contributed $1,591,057, or 70% of his receipts, to his unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign against Barbara Mikulski. But Pipkin was not through trying to buy elections, giving himself another $988,000 – 92% of his receipts – to run unsuccessfully in the Congress District 1 primary against Andy Harris.

Pipkin’s ability to turn on the cash spigot is unparalleled. He once lived in a 9,792-square-foot mansion in Stevensville which he sold for $4.5 million on 9/25/06. Whether he used those proceeds to pay himself back for the race against Mikulski or to finance his race against Andy Harris – or maybe both – is unknown. But Pipkin hasn’t gone to the poorhouse. His new spread in Elkton is right next to “The Club of Patriots Glen,” described as a “must-play course” by Washington Golf Monthly.

Pipkin lives by the rules of the super-rich: do what you want, when you want. And while other legislators send their pay back to the state, Pipkin feels no such obligation. He is just too rich for furloughs.

Delegate William Anthony McConkey (R-33A)
Anne Arundel County

Self-Financing, Federal Campaigns: NA
Self-Financing, State Campaigns: $200,950
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2009: 0
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2010: 0 (So far)

Tony McConkey is a lawyer, real estate broker and property manager who spent $107,950 to get himself elected to an Anne Arundel Delegate seat in 2002. He followed up with another $93,000 in self-financing in 2006.

It’s a mystery how McConkey makes his money since he spends so much time in court as a defendant. He has been sued in 22 different cases in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel County courts since 1991. Among the parties who have sued him are the IRS, the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County, all of whom filed tax liens against him. The state’s lien totaled $12,703.54; the other amounts are not listed on the dockets.

The most infamous anti-McConkey suit was filed by Pasadena resident Teresa Milligan, who alleged that he tricked her into selling her house to him when it was threatened with foreclosure in 2006. Two years later, McConkey filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy to delay his jury trial. The jury ultimately found him guilty of violating state law, but only required him to pay $10,800. A triumphant McConkey proclaimed, “I feel vindicated.” A judge later hiked the penalty to $109,000 in damages and attorneys fees.

Unlike Pipkin, McConkey may have a good excuse for not surrendering furlough pay to the state. He could very well need the money for the next lawsuit.

Senator Andy Harris (R-7)
Baltimore and Harford Counties

Self-Financing, Federal Campaigns: $0
Self-Financing, State Campaigns: $65,000
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2009: 0
Furlough Days Given Up, FY 2010: 0 (So far)

Andy Harris is a three-term Senator who is an obstetric anesthesiologist by trade. He earns a comfortable living that has enabled him to make one $10,000 contribution and four different $10,000 loans to his state campaigns. Unlike Pipkin, he did not self-finance his run for the First District Congressional seat.

Harris is one of the most conservative Senators in Maryland, especially on economic issues. He has lead-sponsored bills calling for a super-majority to raise taxes, a super-majority to pass new spending and a reduction in the sales tax. He describes himself on his website as “a leading advocate for taxpayer rights” and “a fiscal conservative, fighting to keep taxes low and limit government expansion.” Besides running for Congress, Harris is best known for waging his “Porn War” against the University of Maryland.

Andy Harris is anti-spending except when the state’s money is headed into his pocket. Like Pipkin and McConkey, he has not given back furlough days to the state last year or this year.

Some legislators who have not given back furlough days say they will donate their pay to charity instead. Delegate H. Wayne Norman (R-35A) made that argument while comparing his state government to the bankrupt General Motors. There are two problems with that position. First, payment to a charity is inherently unverifiable unless the legislator produces a copy of a canceled check. Second, conservatives like Pipkin, McConkey, Harris and Norman rant endlessly about the need to reduce government spending. Paying a charity rather than returning furlough money redirects spending rather than reducing it. It’s a hollow argument with little credibility given that the legislators’ wallets are involved.

So why make excuses? Act like a conservative, give back the money and cut the budget. Otherwise, these fellows are conservatives only with regard to other people’s needs and are free-spending liberals when it comes to their own.