Lobbyist on the Edge

May 29, 1994

What is it about Bruce C. Bereano that makes his indictment on mail fraud charges front-page news? He's not an elected official, after all. He's simply a lobbyist. But he has transformed that profession into an aggressive, muscle-flexing vocation embedded deep in the innards of Maryland state governance.

The pervasive influence of lobbyists in Annapolis is troubling. Lawmakers are showered with attention and inundated with overtures from lobbyists eager to stroke their egos and make their lives pleasant. That could mean help obtaining cheap car insurance or free gourmet meals or free tickets to every imaginable sporting contest or concert. It also could mean raising vast sums of money for political campaigns.

For over a decade, Mr. Bereano has used these techniques with stunning success. He can lay claim as the innovator of this new form of lobbying, Maryland-style. He assiduously courts senators and delegates, tending to their personal needs and desires. He claims many as close personal friends.

Mr. Bereano prides himself on being on the cutting edge of change. He believes, as aviators would say, in pushing the envelope. He has leveraged his clients' political action committee contributions to state legislators to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, thus leveraging his own influence with these lawmakers. Even on the day of his indictment, Mr. Bereano was at it again: Presiding over a $100-a-plate fund-raiser for Del. Kevin Kelly of Hagerstown at an Annapolis hotel.

Now federal prosecutors say Mr. Bereano went over the edge in his quest for more influence in Annapolis. They have charged him with eight counts of overbilling his clients and using employees and relatives to funnel money illegally to political candidates. A judge and jury will determine the veracity of these allegations.

For political leaders in Annapolis, though, this ought to serve as a wake-up call. The coziness between lobbyists and lawmakers is a growing danger. Too much intimacy corrupts the legislative system. House and Senate rules are so lax that lobbyists play a big role in too many legislative decisions.

But don't blame the lobbyists for their success. Blame legislators for permitting such a corrupting situation to flourish. If legislative leaders wanted to curb the influence of lobbyists, it could happen in a flash. But far too many delegates and senators are dependent on lobbyists for campaign funds and other favors. That is the real crime in the Bereano situation.

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