Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith this year secured more than $28 million to build a highway interchange leading to a road serving a commercial property owned by one of their largest campaign donors.
Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Smith, close political allies, committed the money a few months ago to build the interchange from Interstate 795 to a road running past the $79 million business development owned by Edward St. John.
Mr. St. John was recently fined $55,000 by the state prosecutors office for donating more than $25,000 through his company’s vice presidents to Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Smith during the last election. The vice presidents were reimbursed for their contributions through their year-end bonuses.
Individuals are barred from donating more than $4,000 to a candidate and more than $10,000 overall during an election cycle, though corporations and large donors frequently skirt the law by making donations through limited liability corporations (LLCs) registered in their name or bundling donations from family members and co-workers.
Mr. St. John used both methods to violate the spirit of campaign finance restrictions, prosecutors said late last week.
The O’Malley administration touted the new interchange in a March statement.
“Today, we are investing in a core transportation project that will help meet the needs of one of Baltimore County’s key growth areas,” Mr. O’Malley said in the statement. “This new interchange project is a perfect example of how Maryland benefits when local and state government work together as partners.”
Mr. O’Malley added the $28 million highway project to the state’s long-term transportation plan this year.
The interchange would lead almost directly to the Dolfield Business Park, a 36-acre center that the St. John Properties began developing in 2005. The $79 million development is less than one-tenth of a mile from I-795, at the intersection of Red Run and Dolfield boulevards near Owings Mills.
An O’Malley spokesman said there was no quid pro quo in the decision to build the interchange.
“There’s never any promise of policy, never any promise of state business connected to campaign donations,” said Shaun Adamec. “Contributions [are] completely independent of what the governor does in his role as governor.”
The project had been a county priority since 1999, before Mr. Smith became county executive, a Smith spokeswoman added.
A St. John’s Properties spokesman did not return calls to his work phone and cell phone Wednesday. But Mr. St. John’s company, St. John Properties, boasted about the new highway interchange in a company newsletter in April.
“Dolfield Business Park will soon be served by a new Dolfield exchange on I-795 and improvements to Dolfield Blvd. and its bridge will soon be complete,” the company newsletter reads. “Stay ahead of the market by visiting today and checking out these great properties.”
The newsletter featured a photo of Mr. O’Malley, Mr. Smith and Mr. St. John with state Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari.