Too Cozy for Comfort

March 27, 1995

A new day is starting to dawn in the Annapolis State House. Lobbyists are losing some of their favorite methods for getting chummy with delegates and senators. Pretty soon, they'll be forced to return to the basics of their trade: simply arguing their clients' cases, without any frills, based on facts, logic and emotion.

What's happened in the State House over the past decade or more is that too many lobbyists were romancing too many legislators with a steady stream of opulent daily meals, a barrage of expensive tickets to box seats and skyboxes at sporting and cultural events and an avalanche of gifts of all shapes and sizes.

No wonder many a lawmaker felt obligated to these lobbyists.

In most cases, all this meant was easy access to legislators when a lobbyist wanted to plead his or her case on a particular bill. But in some instances, the free meals and sports tickets and gifts led to a quid pro quo at voting time. Lobbyists were getting too cozy for comfort.

Not much longer, though. Both the House and the Senate are moving forcefully to rein-in rampant spending by lobbyists on legislators. By the time the two chambers sort out their different approaches, meals and tickets from lobbyists could be banned outright, gifts could be capped at a mere $15 and out-of-state trips paid for by lobbyists also could be outlawed.

It's about time. There is no excuse for legislators to mooch off lobbyists. Each lawmaker gets a healthy $30 a day meal allowance (no receipts required) and $29,000 in annual salary. If lobbyists want to get to know lawmakers, they can do so without trying to buy their friendship.

Curbing the free-spending ways of Maryland lobbyists will help eliminate a temptation that some state legislators could not resist. It also will force lobbyists to focus more intently on the most fundamental aspect of their job -- presenting a persuasive argument to the General Assembly on their clients' behalf.

Two years ago, more than $400,000 was spent on wining and dining individual lawmakers and $800,000 was spent overall on meals, gifts and tickets to influence what happens in the General Assembly. In this era of downsizing, lobbyists may be forced to shrink their expenses and high-living, too. That's good news for their clients -- and especially good news for the sanctity of the legislative process.

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