- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

The company in charge of the District’s red-light and speed cameras has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to a former city official and a major D.C. political donor to win city officials’ support for the program, government records show.

Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and its predecessor, Lockheed Martin IMS, have hired Kerry Pearson LLC, which is owned by lobbyist and political consultant Kerry Pearson and Group 360 LLC, founded by Max Brown. Mr. Pearson has worked as a D.C. Council fund-raiser, and Mr. Brown is the former deputy chief of staff and legal counsel to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Together, the lobbyists have earned nearly $500,000 from ACS since 2001, according to the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance filings.

ACS said last week that it paid the lobbyists to educate people on the safety benefits of speed and red-light camera technology. ACS would not comment on the specific arrangements with either company, including whether the lobbying services also include work for ACS on other issues.

“ACS does use specialists to support communication and outreach,” ACS spokesman Joseph M. Barrett said. “As a pioneer in this highly specialized field, ACS has found them to be effective in helping develop public understanding of the program and its proven public-safety benefits.”

Mr. Brown declined to comment and referred questions to ACS, and Mr. Pearson did not return phone calls.

Groups that question the District’s use of the automated traffic-camera technology — arguing that it is primarily used as a revenue stream for city government — say it’s increasingly difficult to compete with ACS’ strong political connections.

“It’s extremely hard,” said Eric Skrum, spokesman for the National Motorists Association, which has criticized the program. “The few organizations speaking out just don’t have the money. We don’t even have a lobbyist. We have to write letters to our members asking them to contact legislators.”

Lon Anderson, spokesman for the AAA Mid-Atlantic, called the lobbying fees paid by Lockheed and ACS “a small insurance policy for the millions of dollars a year you’re going to get in return.”

“If you’re in D.C., you’re saying ACS is doing a good job. They’re making you money hand over fist,” Mr. Anderson said.

Since August 2001, speed cameras have been placed in eight police cruisers that monitor 75 spots throughout the District. The program has generated $65.8 million in fines, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

In addition, fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $29 million since 1999.

Police say the program has helped make the roads safer, pointing to statistics that show that aggressive speeding has dropped from one in three motorists in July 2001 to one in 25 motorists in recent months. Officials also point to a more than 70 percent decline in red-light-running incidents at intersections with cameras.

Mr. Anderson said such statistics show that the cameras have had a positive impact, but public cynicism threatens to undermine the program because of questions about whether the District treats the technology as a public-safety measure or a revenue stream.

“We don’t have a political action committee, and we don’t give away a lot of money,” Mr. Anderson said. “The question is: Is our message getting drowned out by those who show up at every fund-raiser and drop large amounts of money?

“Sure, money buys influence, there’s no getting around that,” he said.

AAA’s questions escalated recently after it learned about a memo by Mr. Williams to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp seeking approval for a contract extension with ACS.

“There is an urgent need for the approval of this contract to ensure the continued processing of District tickets and the collection of District revenues,” said the mayor’s letter, which made no mention of public safety.

“It is as conspicuous as it is strange,” Mr. Anderson wrote of the mayor’s letter. “It arouses suspicion that the primary reason for the contract is ‘District revenue’ and not the safety of the local residents.”

Mr. Anderson said AAA wants the council to hold oversight hearings on the ACS contract.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Williams said that the mayor’s letter inadvertently omitted a sentence on public safety and that he views the technology as primarily a way to improve public safety.

The council approved the ACS contract extension last month.

According to the Office of Campaign Finance, most of the lobbying money that ACS has paid out in recent years has gone to Mr. Pearson’s firm.

From 2000 through the first half of 2004, ACS reported that it had paid Mr. Pearson $404,434 — $350,000 of which covered his retainer — for “various parking and transportation-related issues.” ACS also has a contract to process parking tickets for the District.

Meanwhile, Mr. Brown reported in previous disclosure statements that he is paid $5,000 per month to lobby for ACS and that he has made at least $60,000 for his efforts, according to records.

Both Mr. Pearson and Mr. Brown are active contributors to the campaigns of D.C. officials and their political causes. Each also has a long list of other high-profile lobbying clients.

Through personal and corporate donations, Mr. Pearson and his company have given more than $40,000 to elected officials and political action committees in the past four years, city campaign records show. Mr. Brown and his company have given more than $6,000.

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