Bereano wined, dined officials, legislators for $162,000

December 05, 1990|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano spent more than $162,000 of his clients' money on meals and gifts for state legislators and other officials in the last year, including $33,000 in gifts and entertaining.

If the $162,000 were evenly apportioned among the 188 members of the General Assembly, Bereano would have spent $862 per lawmaker.

But, because of loopholes in state lobbying laws, there is no way to find out which lawmakers were treated to Bereano's largess.

Bereano didn't list a single recipient of any gift or meal on his financial-disclosure forms filed with the State Ethics Commission in May and last week. And, as Bereano pointed out, he didn't have to.

"I follow the requirements of the law," Bereano said.

State law requires lobbyists to disclose only the total amount they spent on gifts and meals. It does not require them to identify recipients of gifts unless the gifts have a total value of more than $75 during the six-month reporting period.

However, any gift or meal of less than $15 a day does not count toward the $75 threshold for disclosure. Since most sports events cost less than $15, their costs would not count toward the $75 figure.

Even if they did, the rules allow the lobbyist to divide the cost of a ticket among several clients, cutting the value of each gift for the purposes of reporting.

Bereano divided his entertaining expenses among three dozen of his clients, ranging from a race track to insurance companies. His clients also include the tobacco industry, as well as computer companies, candy vendors and some State Police associations.

"That's a clear loophole," said Phil Andrews, executive director of Common Cause of Maryland, a lobbying group that has long pushed for reform of campaign and lobbying laws.

"We would support strict limits on gifts above a nominal type," Andrews said. "When you get into thousands of dollars of gifts, the impression is the lobbyist is buying support, buying influence."

Legislators enjoy an even broader loophole in their gift-disclosure requirements. They need report only single gifts worth more than $25, or a series of gifts worth more than $100. And they, like lobbyists, can avoid the need to report gifts by dividing a gift's cost among the various clients of the lobbyist who gave it to them. Although several lawmakers report receiving passes to state race tracks each year, few report any other gifts.

Thanks to the high reporting thresholds in Maryland law, lobbyists almost never have to identify the recipients of gifts and meals.

Bereano, the top-earning lobbyist in Annapolis for the last several years, also is acknowledged as the leading meal-buyer and entertainer in the capital.

Bereano's $162,000 includes $33,000 spent on entertainment and $129,000 on meals, according to Bereano's two most recent ethics commission filings. He reported buying $36,648 worth of meals from May through October, when the legislature was not in session. He said he has been busy this summer and fall meeting and eating with all the new lawmakers heading to the General Assembly.

He said he buys, on behalf of his clients, several season tickets to most of the sports teams in the Baltimore-Washington area, including four Orioles seats, eight for the Blast, 12 for the Washington Redskins and six for the Washington Bullets. He said he uses those mostly to entertain legislators, as well as state officials, clients and even other lobbyists he works with on some issues.

Bereano said he "very, very rarely" talks issues with lawmakers at sporting events. The goal, he said, is "getting to know them better, sharing experiences, camaraderie, relationship-building."

Bereano declined a request from The Evening Sun to identify any of the legislators he has entertained over the last year, saying disclosure might upset some of the lawmakers.

Few other lobbyists entertain on Bereano's scale. "We just don't do a lot of it," said lobbyist Gerard E. Evans, whose several clients include doctors and medical concerns. "It's all sizzle and no steak. We just like to appeal to them on a different level than Redskins games."

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