Reining in Lobbyists

April 04, 1995

This is the crucial week for Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore City, and members of his Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. They have it within their power to implement reforms that would greatly diminish the unseemly influence some well-heeled lobbyists exert over pliable state legislators.

Yet passage is far from guaranteed. Mr. Blount has remained publicly silent on issues where he ordinarily would be vocally supportive. He is, after all, a venerated figure in the state Senate, one who has never allowed himself to become overly dependent on lobbyists. Still, he has delayed consideration of these lobbyist reform measures to a point where their safe passage might be jeopardized in the tumult of the final week's work in the General Assembly.

These are important bills because they send a clear message to Maryland citizens that legislators now recognize the danger of letting lobbyists get too cozy with them.

Too often, an obsequious lobbyist has persuaded lawmakers to savor the good life in Annapolis bars and restaurants at the expense of the lobbyist's clients. And too often, this close linkage has led to gifts of all types and sizes as well as a wealth of free VIP tickets to sporting events and concerts where tickets are hard to come by.

One bill would force lobbyists to name each and every legislator treated to meals and spirits and to specify the precise amount spent. That "sunshine" measure has passed the House. A Senate subcommittee, though, has gone a step further by banning all free meals of this sort. That is the correct approach. Taxpayers fork over $30 a day for each legislator to spend on sustenance while in Annapolis -- with no receipts required. There's no legitimate reason to sponge off lobbyists when the dinner bell rings.

A second bill would ban legislators from accepting non-food gifts over $15 in value. This House-passed measure would help sever unhealthy ties between deep-pockets lobbyists and weak-willed legislators. A third House-backed measure would ban all free sports and concert tickets. Again, it's the right thing to do.

We have faith that Senator Blount recognizes the need for the General Assembly to demonstrate to the public that its members are not for sale to the most generous and most ingratiating lobbyist. There's got to be a firmer line of separation between those who make the law and those who seek to influence their decisions. The lobbyist reform measures in his Senate committee would go a long way toward rebuilding public confidence in Maryland's legislative process.

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