Like governors before him, Larry Hogan has used Maryland’s suites at sports stadiums to entertain family, reward state employees and honor charities — especially those focused on fighting cancer and supporting law enforcement.
The Republican governor of a deep-blue state also has invited both Democratic and GOP politicians, university and corporate leaders — and executives of his private real estate business, according to documents provided by the governor’s office.
“He’s a Ravens and Redskins fan,” said Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the governor. “He and his family love sports. He sees it as a way to reward hard-working state employees and staff members. Both the governor and the lieutenant governor use the opportunity to reward folks who are doing great work across the state.”
As part of contracts with the Maryland Stadium Authority, the governor and Baltimore mayor are provided with skyboxes — valued at thousands of dollars per game — at the Ravens and Orioles stadiums, and there are no legal restrictions on who the officials can invite. The governor also has a suite at FedEx field in Prince George’s County, home of the Washington Redskins.
Common Cause Maryland has long called on governors and mayors to develop written policies governing the boxes and to post online a list of the people who were invited to make clear who has the ear of political leaders.
“There should be policies clearly outlined,” said Damon Effingham, acting director of the government watchdog group.“The guest lists should be posted for the public to see, so folks can know who has influence on the governor and who he’s meeting with. Some of these invitations you would think the governor would want to laud.”
In Washington D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser posts guest lists of who she invites to her suites at Nationals Stadium and the Verizon Center on the city’s website. In 2016, Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia leased out the “Mayor’s Suite” at the Wells Fargo Center to raise money for education.
In 2012, Common Cause urged then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to turn what it deemed a “political skybox” into the “people’s skybox,” suggesting she invite firefighters, teachers and students.
While Democrat William Donald Schaefer was governor, his office refused to release lists of guests to the state’s box at the Orioles stadium, according to reporting from the time. Both Hogan and former Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, have released lists of guest to The Baltimore Sun upon request.
Guest lists reviewed by The Sun show Hogan strikes a bipartisan note in his invitations.
For instance, at one Orioles game in 2015, the governor and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford attended along with fellow Republicans state Sen. J.B. Jennings and Del. Nic Kipke. Also on the guest list were Comptoller Peter Franchot, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, all Democrats.
Other Democratic guests have included Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Council Vice President Sharon Middleton, retired Judge Alexander Williams, former Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, state senators Guy Guzzone, Anthony Muse and Nathaniel McFadden and state Dels. Curt Anderson, Eric Bromwell, Luke Clippinger, Dereck Davis, CT Wilson and Charles Sydnor.
Encounters at the games can sometimes lead to policy discussions.
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he began lobbying Hogan to support a ban on fracking while drinking beers outside a Baltimore Ravens game. Zirkin said he was not a guest of the governor’s in the skybox, but approached him at the game.
“I was working him over a Bud Light,” Zirkin said in 2017, after the Republican governor signed a fracking ban. “And I’ve been working him ever since.”
Chasse said Hogan invites Democrats because he hopes to achieve bipartisan legislation.
“He uses it as a opportunity to build relationships,” she said. “Being able to hash things out over crab dip and beer is as effective as the conference room at the State House.”
Receipts from three stadiums in 2017 show about $13,000 in taxpayer money was spent at the events. Chasse noted the state account for Government House, as the governor’s mansion is known, paid for alcohol purchased during the games.
When Hogan became governor in 2015, he stepped aside from running the real estate business he founded, called the Hogan Companies. He pledged to have no input with the three trustees who manage his assets, though he can receive some information about his company’s finances and real estate dealings, according to a trust agreement approved by the State Ethics Commission. Hogan Companies is now run by the governor’s younger brother, Timothy Hogan.
Records show Timothy Hogan was an invited guest at the stadium boxes nine times over three years, along with five other Hogan Companies employees.
Other Hogan Companies guests include Chief Operating Officer Victor White and Vice President Jake Ermer, who are trustees of the governor’s private real estate holdings.
Effingham of Common Cause, which has called on Hogan to divest from his real estate holdings, said the guest lists show that the governor’s business interests continue to raise questions.
“It’s certainly not beyond the pale to raise an eyebrow at it and ask how blind this trust is, which is not very,” he said.
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor, questioned whether conversations about the Hogan Companies ever come up during the games.
“When you look at the fact that we still don’t have complete transparency as it relates to the governor’s holdings, it’s very concerning to find out that these are the folks who are in that box,” Harris said. “It’s unrealistic to believe there are never any conversations with regard to his company. That should be a concern to everyone.”
Harris said Jealous, if elected, would develop policies governing the box, and post guest lists on the state’s website.
“There should be more opportunity to more of the public to attend,” Harris said.
Chasse said Hogan Companies representatives were invited because they are friends and family. She said the governor does not violate the terms of the trust agreement and it “flies in the face of common sense” to suggest he would do so in a crowded suite with public guest lists.
“Anyone who looks at who the governor has invited will see people of all backgrounds. That includes family and friends, including his brother and former colleagues,” Chasse said. “The governor is prohibited by law from having any discussions about certain matters involving the trust. To imagine that would happen is far fetched to say the least.”
Hogan — who only sporadically attends the games himself — has frequently used the boxes for charitable purposes, including inviting people he met during his bout with cancer. The box has hosted guests from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Catholic Charities, Little Things for Cancer, Maryland Children’s Hospital, mentoring programs and Special Olympics.
He’s also set boxes aside for Wounder Warriors, Gold Star Mothers, the National Guard and Baltimore Police.
Chasse said the governor’s office has a written policy prohibiting the resale of tickets.
John O’Leary, chairman of Warrior Events,a nonprofit that hosts events for wounded troops and the families of slain military members, said Hogan has invited his group to use the box every year in office.
O’Leary said his organization became involved with the governor’s office when former First Lady Katie O’Malley approached the group and invited them to use the box.
“At an Orioles game about eight years ago, Mrs. O’Malley came over and wanted to meet the troops,” O’Leary recalls. “She asked if we’d be interested in using the governor’s box. This has carried over with governor Hogan.”
O’Leary said the families of the soldiers, sailors and Marines appreciate the use.
“To go to a suite behind home plate, they feel like superstars for a day,” he said.
Guest lists for Hogan also have included businessman David Cordish, Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr. and the presidents of Towson and Coppin State universities.
State Del. Joe Cluster, a Baltimore County Republican, said Hogan needs to cross party lines more than the Democrat O’Malley did.
“I’m glad to see the governor is inviting both Republicans and Democrats,” Cluster said.
Cluster, who has attended two games with Hogan, said he liked walking around outside the stadium with the governor to see the reception he gets at bars like Pickles Pub.
“He’s an average Joe,” Cluster said. “He’s one of those guys who is down to Earth, who likes to hang out with their buddies before the game.”