Three short years ago, Gary R. Alexander was a Prince George's County legislator, a ranking Democrat in the Maryland House of Delegates.
But after roaring through the revolving door between legislating and lobbying, Alexander has risen quickly to become the second-highest-paid lobbyist in Annapolis.
The nationally recognized utility lawyer has a diverse practice including such big-dollar clients as Bell Atlantic-Maryland Inc., the Baltimore Ravens, a Las Vegas-based gaming company, a hospital network and a health maintenance organization.
Lobbyist financial disclosure forms filed this month with the State Ethics Commission show that Alexander was paid more than $532,000 by 31 clients during the six months that ended April 30, which included the 90-day legislative session. He was second only to veteran lobbyist Gerard E. Evans, who took in roughly $871,000.
Alexander, a bushy-haired man who seems younger than his 54 years, has a reputation among friends as a quick study with a full grasp of the issues and a great sense of humor.
But his detractors privately call him brash and chameleonlike, an opportunist who has capitalized on his friendships with members of the General Assembly, particularly with House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.
Alexander acknowledges that he has maintained his friendships in the legislature. But he and Taylor, who forged a close relationship during 12 years together in the House, say they maintain a wall between their friendship and legislative matters.
"I don't try to impose on those friendships," Alexander said.
"I think both of us know the difference between our friendship and our professional responsibility," said Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat who was once Alexander's committee chairman.
Nevertheless, sensitive to the perception of impropriety, Taylor paid Alexander two years ago for the use of the lobbyist's beach house in Bethany Beach, Del., after spending the weekend there.
In addition to running the lobbying operation in Annapolis, Alexander practices law. He was in Richmond, Va., this month arguing a case before the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and he regularly represents clients before the Maryland Public Service Commission, where during the 1970s he was people's counsel, the lawyer representing the public's interest.
"I look upon myself as a lawyer as much as a lobbyist," said Alexander, an Upper Marlboro resident.
In Annapolis this year, he counted the state's 10 percent income tax cut -- an issue for which he lobbied on behalf of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce -- as a victory. But a bigger win was a telecommunications tax reform bill, a version of which Taylor sponsored, that changed the way the state taxes Bell Atlantic to bring it into line with the way long-distance companies are taxed.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who picked Alexander in 1983 to fill a House vacancy in his district, called the former chairman of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee "a very talented individual."
"All the lobbyists have their detractors as well as their supporters," said Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat. "Each person has a different style of doing things."
Sometimes Alexander's style of doing business raises eyebrows.
For instance, just before this year's legislative session, Alexander sent campaign contributions -- money collected from fund-raisers in December and early January -- to several lawmakers.
Some of the checks were mailed and others were delivered by an aide, with the intention of having them arrive before the Jan. 8 opening day, when a legislative rule prohibiting fund-raising during the session would kick in.
Some lawmakers were surprised and upset when they arrived in Annapolis for the session to find that the checks had been slipped under the doors of their offices.
Even Miller chastised Alexander at the time.
"Former Del. Alexander knows the rules as well as anyone," the Senate president said. "He could have been and should have been more careful."
Alexander said all of the checks were delivered or mailed before FTC opening day. "You live and learn in this business," he said.
Using a loophole
In another case, he was criticized for taking advantage of a loophole in state ethics laws last year.
When two dozen Maryland lawmakers traveled to St. Louis for the summer meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Alexander managed to avoid having to disclose which and how many of them he entertained there on behalf of a client.
Knowing that most members of the General Assembly were not making the trip to Missouri, he nonetheless invited all 188 senators and delegates to a corporate reception there. Under state ethics law, lobbyists generally have to report the names of legislators they wine and dine -- but not if it's at an event to which the entire assembly is invited.
Alexander defended his action, saying, "It was a bona fide event and open to all the state legislators."