The Money Men

June 08, 1994

It used to be that parents wanted their children to become doctors or lawyers, well-paying professions that assured them the good life. But the smart parents of the 1990s may seek out different role models for their kids. If your girl or boy wants to be rich and influential, the designated profession these days could well be as a lobbyist.

For a mere six months' work, Maryland's top ten lobbyists collected $3.6 million. Just to promote the Washington Redskins' proposed stadium in Laurel, owner Jack Kent Cooke paid two lobbyists $165,000. Defensive lobbying to kill bills that the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. found distasteful cost the utility an astounding $462,000. A maker of lottery equipment paid its main lobbyist $112,000, even though there wasn't any hot and burning lottery issue before the legislature this year. To block creation of a state gambling commission, gambling interests paid lobbyists $123,000.

Lobbying is a fast-growing industry. Businesses have apparently decided that the best way to influence lawmakers and regulators in Annapolis is to pay giant-sized fees to lobbyists, who in turn wine and dine legislators as though they were visiting royalty. Lobbyists also employ a variety of pressure tactics to persuade lawmakers that folks back home really want them to vote in favor of a special interest's position. "Grass roots" letter-writing and telephone campaigns are about as "grass roots" and spontaneous as a stylized Kabuki play.

The tragedy is that legislators let lobbyists get away with this behavior. Companies may always pay big bucks to hire top-rated spokesmen in the State House to present their case. But it is the laxity of the House and Senate rules that has allowed lobbyists to wield such clout. Rather than building a fire wall between legislator and lobbyist, the General Assembly has opted to look the other way. Virtually anything goes -- as long as it is not so flagrant that it proves embarrassing to legislators or proves to be an indictable offense.

This latest report on lobbyists' earnings and spending habits could turn into a campaign issue in many legislative races this summer. We hope it does. The eagerness of some legislators to cozy up to lobbyists and then vote the way these lobbyists desire is all too common. It raises major concerns about the loyalty of these elected officials: do they owe their allegiance to the voters who sent them to Annapolis or to the lobbyists?

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