Feeding Hungry Legislators

December 27, 1990

Members of the Maryland General Assembly apparently have voracious appetites. Just to keep these 188 individuals well fed, lobbyist Bruce Bereano shelled out over $500 a day during the six months that included the 1990 legislative session. That's a lot of filet mignons and Maine lobsters -- not to mention bourbons with water. It's a lot of influence-peddling, too.

Mr. Bereano's lavish spending on legislators -- $129,000 for meals and $33,000 for gifts and entertainment -- illustrates how easy it is for lobbyists to ply lawmakers in Annapolis with unlimited meals, drinks and entertainment without having to account in detail for this spending. Gaping loopholes in the lobbying laws let Mr. Bereano continue his spree on legislators without ever stating who he wined and dined or the exact tabs he ran up for certain senators and delegates. All he has to do is report the grand total.

Did the lobbyist give an important House committee chairman the royal treatment that totaled thousands of dollars? Did the lobbyist use his 12 Redskins season tickets to get on the good side of key senators? We'll never know. Lobbyists can legally hide these specifics. So can legislators on their disclosure forms. It is a system tailor-made for widespread abuse.

The Nov. 6 election results made it clear that a growing number of voters are fed up with the way incumbents operate. This includes the unhealthy coziness that has developed between legislators and lobbyists. Free food and entertainment is an easy way to buy access and favors on issues dear to a lobbyist's heart. Unless the General Assembly tightens its financial disclosure laws, the situation is bound to get worse -- and the public's regard for its State House lawmakers will continue to diminish.

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