Money does the talking for Maryland lobbyists Millions spent to sway legislators

June 05, 1993|By Marina Sarris and John W. Frece | Marina Sarris and John W. Frece,Staff Writers

If money talks, then Maryland's state legislators got an earful in the past six months.

The growing army of lobbyists that invades Annapolis each winter spent a quarter million dollars wining and dining lawmakers, playing host to expensive parties at posh hotels and generally showing them a good time.

If lawmakers wanted a hard-to-get ticket to see the Orioles or the Redskins, they went to see mega-lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano. Mr. Bereano, who represented far more clients (50) and earned far more money ($811,000) than any of his competitors, handed out $12,000 in tickets to pro football, baseball, hockey, basketball and even indoor lacrosse games.

And if lawmakers didn't ask the feds to investigate any of his clients, as one delegate did, they received an invitation to boogie to the Hubcaps at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, courtesy of Mr. Bereano and the Tobacco Institute.

Lobbyist disclosure reports filed at the State Ethics Commission this week provide a fresh glimpse into the lobbying world of Annapolis. They detailed spending from November through April, six-month period that includes the 90-day legislative session, when lobbying is most feverish.

Businesses and professional groups poured millions of dollars into efforts to shape bills to their advantage, to win state contracts, or to change legislators' minds -- and votes.

During a session in which a health care reform bill was pushed through against all odds, business, labor, insurance companies and a host of health care providers spent more that $1 million combined to grease the process in their respective best interests.

In so doing, they unleashed more than two dozen lobbyists in the State House.

The health reform bill was designed to make health insurance more available to employees of small companies, and to set up a powerful new panel with the authority to regulate physician fees and services.

No fewer than 11 of lobbyist Gerard E. Evans' 32 clients were affected by the bill: pharmaceutical manufacturers, insurance agents and brokers, medical laboratories, a health maintenance organization, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, a medical malpractice insurer, and InforMed, a service that collects and analyzes information about physician services and fees. Together, those clients paid Mr. Evans $211,000 -- including $80,000 from InforMed alone.

Financial incentive

In return, Mr. Evans used his personal and political connections with several key legislators to bend and shape House Bill 1359 to more closely reflect the views of his clients.

"All my clients did very, very well in 1359," he boasted.

Of course, lobbyists have a financial incentive to claim success -- no one wants to hire a lobbyist who says he can't influence the powerful.

Many lobbyists cultivate their access to lawmakers at luncheons and dinners.

Mr. Bereano alone spent $44,095 feeding legislators during the six-month period, which breaks down to $245 a day -- double what most families spend in a week on food.

The Chemical Industry Council, represented by Carolyn T. Burridge, spent more than $11,000 for a single reception at the posh Governor Calvert House.

Of course, lawmakers are not dependent on the kindness of lobbyists to eat during the session. Taxpayers give each of them up to $36 a day for meals.

Legislators say they are not as influenced by lobbyists as lobbyists think they are.

"For whatever evils may go on as to the spreading around of money by lobbyists and special interest groups, I don't think that a lobbyist taking a legislator to dinner is the worst part of it, honestly," said Sen. Thomas P. O'Reilly, chairman of the powerful Finance Committee.

"It doesn't say very much about the character of an individual who would be swayed even the tiniest bit because someone bought them dinner or gave them a little gift," he said.

500 registered lobbyists

Nearly 500 people are registered as lobbyists in Maryland -- about 2.5 lobbyists for every state legislator. It takes 149 pages just to list their names and clients, from Abel (Marilyn, of the Maryland Food Committee) to Zorzi, (William F. Sr., of the American Automobile Association).

In between are lobbyists for everyone from obstetricians to funeral directors, from the British Embassy to bingo halls.

The 10 highest-paid lobbyists earned more than $3.5 million for six months work, more than it costs to run the entire state Senate during the same time. Their average fee for six months of $350,000 is staggering when compared to the $28,000 a year taxpayers pay lawmakers.

The largest single fee of the reporting period was paid by a nonprofit company. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of the National Capital Area spent $95,220 on Montgomery County lawyer/lobbyist Devin J. Doolan.

The nonprofit insurer was attempting to protect its interests in health care reform and shield itself from overly stringent state regulation.

State contracts

Not to be outdone, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland

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