Delegates defeat bill to aid distributors in contract disputes Fear of favoritism cited by opponents

March 21, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- A bill to give wholesale distributors some economic power against the manufacturers who supply them fell victim yesterday to fears about protectionism and special interest lobbying.

By 70-63, the House of Delegates handed a rare floor vote defeat to the bill that would have established a set of rules by which manufacturers must deal with Maryland distributors.

In an extraordinary debate on the House floor yesterday, supporters and opponents aired accusations about improper lobbying, influence-peddling and legislative overreaching.

Almost incidental to the heated discussion were the basic philosophical differences the lawmakers expressed about the bill: whether the state has any right to put itself in the middle of private business relationships; whether Maryland companies and jobs should be protected; and whether passage of the bill would have led manufacturers to use out-of-state distributors.

"Vote the bill up or vote the bill down, but please vote on the bill and not the rhetoric that has built up around it," implored Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, minutes before his colleagues decided to vote the bill down. Mr. Taylor is the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, which passed the bill Thursday.

House Bill 1314, sponsored at the request of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, would require a manufacturer to give a distributor 60 days' notice prior to terminating the relationship before the natural end of the contract.

The distributor would have the 60 days' warning to solve the problems that led to the termination. If they couldn't be solved, the bill required the manufacturer to buy back the inventory it sold the distributor. "The manufacturer holds all the cards because it is his products that are going into the stream of commerce," Mr. Taylor, who supports the bill, said yesterday. "He says, 'If you want to sell my products, here are the terms.' "

But the bill's opponents -- through lobbying and in full-page newspaper ads -- branded it special- interest legislation designed to protect an "old boy network" of distributors. The bill was first proposed by a coalition of wholesalers.

The fears of favoritism were fueled by the fact that HB 1314 asoriginally drafted would have been retroactive to Jan. 1, 1991. The retroactivity was amended out in committee, but some legislators wondered whether a specific coalition member wanted the bill to cancel an earlier termination.

"Why would anyone support making a bill retroactive to Jan. 1, 1991, unless there was a specific person or persons that it was trying to help out?" asked Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican.

"Everybody talks about this bill being for somebody," an angry Mr. Taylor responded. "Well, let me say the man's name: Buddy Zamoiski."

He was referring to Calman "Buddy" Zamoiski, owner of the Baltimore-based Zamoiski Co., a distributor of home appliances and flooring materials. One of the companies that used to sell home appliances to Mr. Zamoiski, the Raytheon Co., canceled its distribution agreement last fall. Mr. Zamoiski could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Speaking on the floor of the full House, Mr. Taylor denied assertions circulated by manufacturing groups that opposed the bill that Mr. Zamoiski improperly lobbied on behalf of the bill. Mr. Taylor also denied that he helped pass the bill in gratitude to the governor for his help in securing funding for the Rocky Gap golf course in Cumberland, which is located in the district Mr. Taylor represents. "I'm astounded at the smoke and disinformation that the . . . lobbying corps has brought to this issue," he said.

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