FORMER MARYLAND governor Martin O’Malley is a small-timer when it comes to the fees he demands for speaking engagements, at least compared with Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. Nonetheless, Mr. O’Malley has been stepping up his game, specifically by striking a deal with a tech company that benefited from a sizeable no-bid state contract when he was governor — and which then paid him nearly $148,000 for speeches and consulting in the months after he left office in January.
The appearance of a quid pro quo is not the biggest problem facing Mr. O’Malley, who remains stuck near zero in the polls among Democratic primary voters. Still, the payment — his single largest chunk of current income — while not illegal, is troubling.
In response to our questions, Mr. O’Malley’s campaign said he has given four speeches since January to the company, Environmental Systems Research Institute, known as Esri, which is based in California. A spokesman said Esri had approached Mr. O’Malley to propose the arrangement near the end of his term as governor last fall and that a contract to give speeches, provide consulting and “review policy documents” for the firm was signed in January, almost immediately after he left office. The speeches to date were delivered in Washington, California and Lisbon.
Mr. O’Malley, justly recognized for his use of data-driven policy analysis, helped deepen Maryland’s business with Esri, which specializes in interactive mapping software. In 2011, the state Board of Public Works, on which Mr. O’Malley was one of three members, approved a $2.1 million sole-source contract for Esri; the contract was expanded to $3 million last year, also with Mr. O’Malley’s backing. (The board, on which Mr. O’Malley no longer sits, will consider an additional contract expansion worth $832,000 in August.)
There’s no reason to doubt that Esri’s work for Maryland, as well as for other states and municipalities, is worthwhile. And we don’t question Mr. O’Malley’s track record, as governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore, of using data-driven analysis and mapping to enhance public services and programs.
What’s concerning is how he pivoted almost immediately on leaving office to accepting a large income from a firm whose ongoing business with the state was sustained in no small part because of Mr. O’Malley’s influence. Notwithstanding the governor’s sincere interest in the subject matter, there’s the appearance of a payback.
There is no law prohibiting that sort of arrangement; the public’s only safeguard is the conscience of the public servant himself.
It’s also fair to wonder how Mr. O’Malley and his wife, Catherine Curran O’Malley, a state district court judge, ran up such large personal debts. Together, the couple had a combined annual income of nearly $300,000 for most of the eight years he served as governor, as well as free housing in the governor’s mansion in Annapolis. Yet they have taken loans of $339,000 to put their two eldest children through college, plus a line of credit of at least $100,000 and a mortgage of $500,000 for a home in Baltimore.
The question of how presidential candidates handle their finances is related to character, personal responsibility and maturity. By his means of earning income and the debt he has incurred, Mr. O’Malley has raised questions.