A politically well-connected public relations firm represented companies or advocacy groups that spent $3 out of every $5 related to the special session on gaming last month.
Lobbying reports filed this week with the Maryland State Ethics Commission help clarify the relationship between Baltimore-based Kearney O'Doherty Public Affairs and companies with an interest in building a casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County.
Kearney is a former top aide to Mayor and then Gov. Martin O'Malley.
O'Doherty, a Towson resident, was a top aide to former County Executive Jim Smith.
The firm represented three entities—MGM Resorts, The Peterson Companies, and Building Trades for the National Harbor—that spent nearly $3.3 million of the $5 million spent lobbying according to disclosure reports filed last week.
Despite offering lobbying services to its clients, KO Public Affairs does not register as a lobbyist with the state. Instead, the firm appears to directly provide mostly media relations services and advertising purchasing while acting as a sort of referral agent for other services.
The firm set up media events or spoke to reporters on behalf of MGM Resorts, The Peterson Companies and Building Trades for the National Harbor.
But the firm took a more direct hand in the building trades group, according to lobbying reports.
MGM Resorts contributed more than $2.1 million toward the effort to pass expanded gambling legislation. Most of that money helped fund the building trades group, according to a lobbying report filed by David Carroll, a lobbyist for Capitol Strategies, which represented the casino operator. MGM wants to operate a casino at National Harbor.
The Peterson Companies, a Virginia-based firm that was the developer of the National Harbor project, contributed nearly $600,000 more to the trades group, according to a report filed by Tim Perry, a lawyer and lobbyist for Baltimore-based Gordon Feinblatt.
Mark Coles, a Camp Springs-based lobbyist who works with Washington-area union groups, filed a report with the state ethics commission that listed the Building Trades for the National Harbor as his client. The building trades group offices share the same address, suite number and phone number as the offices of KO Public Affairs, according to the report.
Two KO Public Affairs employees—Howard Libit and Bryan Dunn—acted as media contacts for a number of media events on behalf of the building trades and MGM Resorts both before and during the special session.
Dunn also appeared in the press area during the special session debate on the gambling bills wearing press credentials from the news aggregation website CenterMaryland.org—Kearney, O'Doherty and Libit are listed on the site as founders.
Martin Knott, another founder of CenterMaryland.org and Towson resident, was named chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Corporation in July. The president of Timonium-based Knott Mechanical immediately began advocating for expanded gambling—specifically a casino at National Harbor.
KO Public Affairs has been linked to other controversial issues in the area in the last year.
Earlier this year, the firm was linked to developers who oppose the Foundry Row development proposed for the former Solo Cup plant site in Owings Mills. The firm is believed to also be linked to the so-called grass roots group Say No To Solo Coaltion. The coalition has never revealed how it funds its high-priced advocacy activities.
KO Public Affairs was also linked to the creation of a so-called grass roots group that advocated for more speed cameras in Baltimore County. KO Public Affairs at the time represented ACS State and Local Solutions, the company receiving nearly 90 percent of all fines related to the cameras in the county.