Lawmaker, lobbyist maintain close business affiliations Long-standing ties link Della, Wyatt

July 05, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

In the cozy world of Maryland politics, the line drawn between lawmakers who represent the public and lobbyists who are paid by special interests often becomes blurred.

But even by State House standards, rarely is a relationship as close as the one between Sen. George W. Della Jr. of Baltimore and lobbyist Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt, the one-time patronage chief for former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

The two men have a lifelong friendship rooted in their fathers' South Baltimore political machine, the Della-Wyatt organization. But they also have a number of business affiliations and other ties that go beyond the usual links between legislators and lobbyists.

Consider:

* Senator Della is licensed as a real estate agent with Mr. Wyatt's company, TMK Real Estate Corp. -- and is its resident agent, the contact person when the corporation is being served court papers.

* Senator Della's Federal Hill home is the principal office address of a second company owned by Mr. Wyatt, The Nyberg & Associates Co., a specialty advertising firm. The principal address is considered by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation to be the main office of the business, where the company's bylaws are required by law to be kept.

* In the past two years, Senator Della has sponsored three bills -- on city bingo permits, on transfers of salvage vehicles, and on personal injury protection (PIP) insurance -- that were lobbied by Mr. Wyatt for clients.

* The year before Senator Della's 1990 re-election campaign, Mr. Wyatt's clients and business associates purchased $4,000 worth fund-raiser tickets on the senator's behalf, nearly 10 percent of the ticket purchases listed in his campaign finance reports.

* The finance reports also show that Senator Della's campaign paid $3,200 for computer equipment and repair work to Consolidated Computer Investors Inc., a company owned by Mr. Wyatt's wife, Beverly A. Wyatt. The campaign also paid $3,000 to Nyberg for campaign materials and Christmas cards.

* Senator Della, a Democrat from Baltimore's 47th legislative district, is one of 23 state political and business leaders who has written letters to the Court of Appeals supporting Mr. Wyatt's efforts to regain his law license after a 1980 bribery conviction forced his disbarment. Gov. William Donald Schaefer has pardoned Mr. Wyatt.

Senator Della, 50, says that he has never profited from his relations with Mr. Wyatt, that he has violated no laws or ethics rules, and that he sees nothing wrong with his ties to the lobbyist.

"I've done absolutely nothing improper, and if there's an appearance of anything improper, it's just the appearance, not the fact," Senator Della said.

Mr. Wyatt, 51, through his attorney, declines to discuss the issue.

Maryland law requires that most public officials disclose certain information about business affiliations, stock holdings and property ownership. General Assembly ethics rules require legislators to disqualify themselves from acting on legislation that might benefit them or file disclosures making possible conflicts of interest public.

But the laws and rules governing disclosure and conflicts of interest -- even the presumption of a conflict -- hinge on the state official's benefiting financially.

None of the Della-Wyatt affiliations is mentioned in disclosure forms filed with the State Ethics Commission or in disqualification and conflict of interest disclosures filed with the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.

"I've never benefited

Senator Della said that disclosure of any affiliation with the lobbyist is not necessary because he has not realized any financial gain as a result of the bills he introduced or his relationship with Mr. Wyatt.

"I've never benefited directly or indirectly on anything" involving the Wyatt businesses, he said.

Maryland ethics officials said they were reluctant to discuss the relationship because their official duties might require them to investigate such a matter.

But Paul J. Smith, the retired chairman of the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission, said the business affiliations have the appearance of impropriety. "If I was still on the ethics commission in Pennsylvania and someone presented that to me, I probably wouldn't sleep tonight," Mr. Smith said. "I would want someone to come in and answer some questions and assure me that it was on the up and up."

Records of the Maryland Real Estate Commission show that Senator Della's real estate license is held by TMK -- a point he himself acknowledges.

But Senator Della said he never has collected a commission or salary from TMK since transferring his license to the company 17 years ago.

That, he said, was because he never pursued the real estate career he considered as possible fall-back employment nearly 20 years ago, when first licensed as an agent with a company owned by the late Sen. Harry J. McGuirk, the consummate political insider and deal-maker born of the Della-Wyatt machine.

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