BGE spent record sum on lobbying Bereano earned most, $703,000

June 04, 1994|By Marina Sarris and John W. Frece | Marina Sarris and John W. Frece,Lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the State Ethics Commission.Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spent a record $462,000 to influence Maryland legislators this winter, primarily to defeat bills threatening the utility's profitable side businesses.

The legislation, pushed by BGE's competitors, would have regulated the company's heating and air-conditioning repair services and other enterprises.

Altogether, BGE dropped more money on lobbying than any single business since the State Ethics Commission began keeping annual statistics in 1985. In fact, the company spent twice as much as the biggest spender of 1993, the Maryland Bankers Association.

Lobbyist disclosure reports filed with the commission this week detailed spending by hundreds of businesses, professional associations and trade groups, providing the latest glimpse into the high-stakes world of Annapolis lobbying.

The reports cover spending from November through April, a six-month period that included the 90-day legislative session, when lobbying reached its peak. Groups ranging from doctors to cigarette manufacturers poured millions into efforts to shape legislation to their advantage and change legislators' minds.

The perennial lobbying champion, Bruce C. Bereano, finished first again, with 46 clients that paid him more than $703,000. He, in turn, spent about $55,000 on food, drinks and sports tickets for lawmakers.

BGE concentrated on organizing a "grass-roots" campaign that enlisted community groups, employees and customers of its appliance stores and heating service operations, according to BGE staff lobbyist Jack R. Lodge.

He said the company's stockholders paid the bill, and not BGE's natural gas and electric customers.

The company contacted customers by phone and through the mail, told them about the legislation and urged them to contact lawmakers, he said. It spent $879 on meals for 14 customers and community leaders who testified on its behalf in Annapolis.

Mr. Lodge said the effort led to the bills' defeat.

"People wrote some very emotional and sincere letters to legislators in opposition to the legislation. The customers were willing to go to bat for us," Mr. Lodge said.

The company far outspent its opponents, a group of plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractors and appliance dealers who dropped a mere $27,300 in Annapolis on behalf of the legislation.

The contractors said BGE's side businesses have an unfair advantage because they are indirectly subsidized by ratepayers, charge the utility denied.

Lobbyist Dennis C. McCoy, hired by the plumbing and heating interests to push the bills restricting BGE, said he was not surprised to learn how much the utility spent.

"I've never seen anyone work an issue as diligently as I've seen them work this issue," he said.

Lobbyists for the Washington Redskins also found that diligence and money paid off.

The National Football League team paid lobbyist Alan M. Rifkin $125,000 and his partner Gerard E. Evans another $40,000 to clear state obstacles to a Laurel stadium.

Mr. Rifkin's fee was the largest paid to any single lobbyist by one client during the session.

Asked about his expenditure, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke said, "I have no idea what we paid them." He said the team's vice president for finance worries about such matters.

"Whatever we paid to our friend Alan Rifkin, so far as I'm concerned, was money well spent," he added. "I say it without a tittle, a jaunt, a whittle or a doubt: I'm going to build that stadium."

Citizens Against the Stadium, a group of Laurel-area residents opposed to the Redskins' plan, spent a mere $1,600 on office expenses and publications.

While Mr. Rifkin earned the largest single fee, the 49-year-old Mr. Bereano remained the top earner overall, as he has for most of the past decade.

That sort of performance may now be in jeopardy. Last week, Mr. Bereano was indicted by a federal grand jury on eight felony counts of mail fraud for alleged campaign finance violations.

Mr. Bereano's largest single fee this year, $112,000, came from GTECH Corp., the Rhode Island firm that hired him to help win the state's lucrative lottery contract in 1992.

But his list of big-ticket clients is a long one: $57,500 from the Tobacco Institute; $55,000 from Correctional Medical Systems, a Louis firm that runs medical programs in prisons; $52,500 from the Marine Spill

Response Corp. of Washington, D.C., which is involved in oil spill recovery work; $47,688 from Youth Services' International, the firm that runs two state centers for juvenile delinquents in Maryland; and $42,000 from Systemhouse, a computer systems integration firm in Baltimore.

Elsewhere, the hundreds of reports on file included these expenditures:

* U.S. English, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, paid George N. Manis $18,250 to push a bill making English the official language of Maryland. The legislation passed, but Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed it after opponents claimed it had racist and anti-immigrant overtones.

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