Md. lobbyists foot the bill for delegates' relaxation Corporate sponsors hope to underwrite good will, access

Republican Convention

Campaign 1996

August 16, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- After nightly sessions at the Republican National Convention, many members of the Maryland delegation have retired to a hotel hospitality suite, where they chat over assorted cheeses, strawberries, beer and mixed drinks.

With its panoramic view of the San Diego skyline, the ninth-floor lounge is a pleasant place to end the day. And just in case anyone is unaware of who's footing the bill, there are signs identifying the Maryland corporations and lobbyists who have paid a total of $2,400 to make the relaxing evenings possible.

Corporate sponsorship has been as much a part of this convention as confetti and balloons. Seeking to generate good will and maintain access to politicians, companies ranging from Philip Morris to United Airlines have sponsored lavish parties for the party faithful from around the country.

On a more modest scale, several Maryland companies and lobbyists have reached out from 3,000 miles away to make the GOP delegation's stay in San Diego just a little more comfortable.

State law allows companies and lobbyists to throw parties for politicians. But those delegates who hold state office must disclose such largess if the amount of food and drink exceeds $25 per person.

Criticism

A Maryland watch-dog group criticized the practice, saying its gives donors an unfair advantage in matters before the legislature.

"It's an opportunity for business entities to ingratiate themselves," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland. "If the businesses didn't think they were going to get something for it, they wouldn't make the investment."

The chairman of the state Republican Party, Joyce Lyons Terhes, said she had asked for donations for the hospitality suite at the Travelodge where the delegation is staying because members have to pay for their lodging, airline tickets and much of their food.

Terhes contends that because there is not a lot of money involved and because it is going to the party, and not an individual candidate, there is nothing wrong with it.

"For $500, I don't know what kind of a vote you would buy," she said.

Donors

Those footing the bill for the hospitality suite included Charles A. Dukes Jr., a partner in one of Annapolis' best-known lobbying firms, Dukes Evans Rozner and Stierhoff, who said he gave $1,000 simply because he is a longtime Republican.

AAI of Hunt Valley, which holds contracts with the state's Mass Transit Administration to repair and improve light rail cars and heavy rail couplings, gave $500.

"This gives me access," said Robert W. Pully, an AAI marketing consultant from Montgomery County whose wife, Suzanne, is an alternate delegate. "We want the delegation to know we are in the [transportation] business, and we appreciate the work we've done with" the state.

One of the contributors to the suite, Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, has gone bicoastal. He managed to entertain Maryland political officials on both coasts at the same time. Bereano contributed $100 to the suite and, last night, threw a party at the annual meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City.

Bereano, who came to epitomize the wheeling-dealing Annapolis lobbyist during his heyday as the state's highest-paid political advocate, was convicted in November 1994 of defrauding some of his clients by charging them for illegal campaign contributions. Bereano has appealed his conviction. He did not return a reporter's phone call yesterday.

Earlier in the week, an Annapolis lobbying firm, Government Affairs-Maryland, took 26 delegates and family members on a deep-sea fishing trip. Under the section of the state ethics law governing such gifts, the firm was advised that the legislators within the delegation should pay their own way, and they did.

For some lawmakers, though, it was common sense.

"I try not to let lobbyists pick up any tabs for me," said state Del. F. Vernon Boozer of Baltimore County.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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