Bereano shaped by money, power

May 27, 1994|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Sun Staff Writer

His image is based on money and his power on knowledge of state laws that he helped write.

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano has earned higher fees, taken on more clients and funneled more money into campaign treasuries than any other lobbyist in Maryland's history.

Though a reformer in his early years in Annapolis, Mr. Bereano was proud to be identified as the target of a 1991 legislative initiative intended to limit the influence of money in state politics.

This was the man who helped to win a pardon for former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and eventually hired him as a lobbying partner.

A former drafter of bills and a teacher of a popular legislative seminar at the University of Maryland law school, Mr. Bereano boasted about his ability to stay within the letter of the law.

But yesterday, a federal grand jury said he failed to do so, indictinghim on eight counts of mail fraud for allegedly sending clients phony bills, channeling the proceeds to political candidates, and concealinghis own role as their backer.

On the morning that the indictment was handed down, Mr. Bereano began what for him was a typical day, starting with a fund-raiser at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis.

This one was a breakfast for Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany. Mr. Bereano was impromptu master of ceremonies, and after

introducing several dignitaries, he sat at a table with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, several Cabinet members, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., also of Allegany, and State Police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver.

Mr. Bereano's status has allowed him to push lobbying beyond lawyerly advocacy to an enterprise based on fund raising, access and influence.

He helped transform fund raising in Maryland from a system based on the quadrennial, $25-a-ticket bull roast or crab feast to a continuous effort in which legislators virtually sent bills to lobbyists with access to the deepest corporate pockets.

"Scared money," former Del. Donald Robertson of Montgomery County called it.

In some years, Mr. Bereano was one man lobbying for as many as 60 clients. He was managing about a dozen political action committees, including one he formed and called Bereano PAC. One of the PAC's contributors was his mother, Beatrice Bereano -- always a fan of good government, he told a reporter with a wink.

Bereano watchers frequently remarked on his audacity.

"If you're out there on the edge," says John S. O'Donnell, head of the state's Ethics Commission, "it's very hard not to make a mistake. People who operate on the edge of the table all the time almost always fall off."

A fretful General Assembly in 1991 ordered a legal separation between PACs and lobbyists, banning them as officers of campaign committees.

Lobbyists could no longer be involved in legislative fund raising -- although they could still advise clients on which legislators had beenfriendly enough to deserve a contribution.

Though legally limited in his fund-raising activities, Mr. Bereano continued to prosper as a lobbyist. He was paid more than $771,000 by 46 clients during the six-month reporting period that ended April 30. This did not include income from his law practice in Annapolis.

Now 49, this twice-divorced father of one son was born in New York City, graduated from George Washington University in 1966 and from its law school in 1969. He practiced law in Washington for several years before moving to the state capital.

His career began in the aura of his well-respected mentors, both of them Senate presidents. He was an aide to the late William S. James and then to Steny H. Hoyer, now a U.S. congressman.

They assigned him a number of reform initiatives and, in 1979, he was put to work on the law under which candidates for office raise money for their campaigns. The same statute governs the operationof lobbyists and conflicts of interest among legislators.

Stung by a rash of national and local scandals, the General Assembly wanted to assure voters it was trying to prevent further embarrassment. Mr. Bereano would later use the law as a manual for building political power and personal wealth.

Between 1975 and 1986, he served on a commission charged with revising all the laws of the state. He was chairman of the Anne Arundel County Charter Revision Commission. He was appointed to the Maryland Commission for Women and the Commission on Hispanic Affairs. He raised money for the March of Dimes, worked with the Boy Scouts, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis, and the Washington Regional Anti-defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Bereano lobbied to free Mr. Mandel from federal prison, where the former governor was serving a sentence for political corruption. Mr. Mandel was pardoned and his conviction overturned.

Such exertions put Mr. Bereano in a chain of connection with the late, legendary Irv Kovens, the Baltimore businessman whose bulging Rolodex contained the names of all the bankrollers, high and low, in Maryland business.

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