Only hours after voting to clamp down on the influence of lobbyists, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned Monday and headed for two parties partially paid for by none other than lobbyists.
Several lobbyists kicked in hundreds of dollars for early-morning parties for legislators, their staffs and friends yesterday at two Annapolis hotels.
"I was just trying to be of assistance to legislators," said lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who said he chipped in $100 for one of the parties and either $300 or $400 for the other. "I don't look at it any differently than as a form of entertaining legislators."
Del. Hattie N. Harrison, D-City, who hosted a party at a downtown Annapolis hotel, said lobbyists have helped pay for the event since she started it 18 years ago.
Harrison said that the lobbyists send their money directly to the hotel and not to her. "I don't want to be involved with money," she said. "I want to keep my hands as clean as possible."
Lobbyist Dennis McCoy said he agreed to contribute $100 after Harrison asked. Harrison first suggested that one of McCoy's clients, Seagram's distillers, might be interested in donating some of its products to the party. McCoy said he preferred to make a cash contribution. McCoy said he felt no pressure to contribute, in part because he had no bills pending in the legislature at the time.
"I got the distinct impression that if I had said no, it wouldn't have made any difference," McCoy added.
At least eight lobbyists chipped in a minimum of $100 to Harrison's party at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel, according to Rita Tirrell, the hotel's general manager. Harrison and the hotel also helped pay for the event.
Del. Ruth M. Kirk, D-City, hosted a party at the Annapolis Ramada Inn that also was paid for partially by lobbyists. She could not be reached for comment.
The General Assembly Monday gave final approval to two bills aimed at curbing the influence of lobbyists and special interests. One measure will establish the first limit on the amount of money a political action committee can contribute to a campaign. The second will prohibit lobbyists from raising money for candidates, a provision believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
The legislature rejected another provision that would have forced lobbyists to disclose the names of legislators they entertain. Loopholes in the law generally allow lobbyists to avoid disclosing the names of officials they wine and dine.
"I think what it shows is that even in the wake of this so-called reform it's going to be business as usual in Annapolis," said one lobbyist who contributed to one of the parties. The lobbyist added that the pressure to contribute to parties and political fund-raisers can be "vicious."
"If they ask, I give," the lobbyist added.