The mini-referendum on the Maryland False Claims Act in Legislative District 4 — Part 1 of 2
Today is the first of a two-part post revisiting a frequent topic here at Vaquitamlaw.com – the Maryland False Claims Act and, more specifically, the battle that has raged for the last four years in Maryland over this legislation.
Regular readers of this blog have followed past events in Maryland, but last month, this on-going fight took an interesting — and novel — turn. Until June of 2014, the Maryland FCA battle was fought in legislative Committees of the House of Delegates and the state Senate, but this summer the fight spilled over into a Republican primary in Senate District 4. And, because the two men running in this district primary each played major roles in the 2014 fight – with one guy being pro-Maryland FCA and the other guy being anti-FCA — the primary race became a mini-referendum on the Maryland False Claims Act.
And the good guys – or rather, the good guy, in the form of Del. Michael Hough – won.
The mini-referendum on the Maryland False Claims Act in Legislative District 4
Here’s what happened. In the 2014 legislative session we came closer than ever before to passing a real Maryland False Claims Act. Only one hurdle stood in the way – a committee of the Maryland state Senate. As a result of Del. Sam Arora’s tireless efforts, supporters of the Maryland FCA had enough votes to pass the bill in a full Senate vote, and it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen. Then, on the last day of the 2014 legislative session, Republican state Sen. David Brinkley used what is politely called a “procedural maneuver” to kill the Maryland False Claims Act of 2014 in committee so that it never reached a full vote on the Senate floor.
Had Brinkley not subverted the democratic process by killing an important piece of legislation that had already passed the House of Delegates for the umpteenth time, the law would have passed the full Senate and, since it had already been passed by the House of Delegates, it would have landed on Gov. O’Malley’s desk, where it would have certainly been signed.
Those of us who have spent a great deal of time and effort on the Maryland FCA were, to say the least, irked by Sen. Brinkley’s end-run around the bill. Among the individuals upset by this was one Maryland Republican Del. Michael Hough, who had done the proper and brave thing and voted in favor of the Maryland FCA of 2014.
So, when Hough (which is pronounced “Huff”) announced that he was challenging Brinkley in the state Senate primary, it was a pretty safe bet that the Maryland FCA would become an issue.
The voters of Legislative District 4 Get to Vote on the Maryland False Claims Act
Throughout the primary, Brinkley kept swinging – spurred on, no doubt, by the Chamber of Commerce and the “think-tanker” wing of the Republican Party – by trying to turn Del. Hough’s support of the Maryland False Claims Act into a political liability.
This, it turns out, was a serious miscalculation by Brinkley, but that should hardly be surprising. It has always seemed to me that when a sitting incumbent is challenged in a primary it is always, at least in part, because the electorate feels the incumbent has gotten out of touch and no longer understands them. As part of that, the electorate very often feels that the incumbent spends too much time listening to lobbyists and think-tankers and not enough time listening to constituents.
And there is a fair amount of evidence that that is what happened here. For example, Brinkley trotted out nothing less than a bona fide inside-the-beltway think-tanker in the form of Walter Olson of the Cato Institute. Olson published an oped piece in the Baltimore Business Journal entitled “Anti-fraud legislation in Maryland could have unintended side effects.”
I will deal with Olson’s piece — which is long on long on emotion and short on fact — in the next part of this post, but in closing I will just say this: I don’t know how long Brinkley represented the 4th legislative district, but he was obviously out of touch if the best he can do to reach the voters of Frederick County Maryland is to bring in a think-tanker like Walter Olson.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of 2 on Maryland’s mini-referendum on the FCA.