Gambling interests spent $600,000 Money was used to lobby lawmakers in General Assembly

June 03, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Marina Sarris | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

The Maryland horse racing industry, casino interests and others wishing to expand legalized gambling in the state spent more than $600,000 trying to influence lawmakers during this year's General Assembly session, according to lobbying reports.

Spending by gambling and other special interest groups -- which has grown to become a $20 million-a-year industry in Annapolis -- is detailed in hundreds of pages of disclosure reports filed by the lobbyists this week. The reports offer a glimpse into the enormous efforts made to sway Maryland's 188 senators and delegates.

While the reports cover the six-month period through April 30, the bulk of the expenditures came during the annual 90-day legislative session, which ended April 13.

A preliminary review of the reports by The Sun showed:

Gambling interests spent in excess of $640,000 lobbying legislators, much of it from Maryland's ailing horse-racing industry, which is promoting a move to legalize slot machines at the state's tracks. Although the issue of allowing slots or casinos was given virtually no chance of passage during the session, gambling interests continued to be a strong presence in Annapolis.

The tobacco lobby spent more than $325,000 to make its views known on a variety of issues. The industry sought but failed to stop a change in Maryland law that Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. says will significantly help the state's $13 billion lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers. But tobacco interests succeeded in fending off attempts to tighten state laws on the sale of cigarettes in vending machines.

By contrast, anti-smoking groups -- among them the American ** Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association -- spent roughly $115,000, much of it promoting the Curran bill.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, the attorney representing the state in the lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers, spent $113,600 to attempt to promote his various interests.

Much of that money was spent on a handful of lobbyists pushing the Curran measure, which could help to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in fees for his law firm if the state's suit is successful. Ultimately, however, the bill also capped Angelos' fee for handling the case at 12.5 percent of any recovery, half of what his contract initially called for.

The Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., one of the agricultural interests seeking to influence Gov. Parris N. Glendening's water quality bill, spent more than $140,000 for its lobbying efforts.

Under state law, lobbyists are required to disclose their compensation, expenses and other money spent while attempting to influence legislators on behalf of their clients. More than 550 lobbyists registered with the State Ethics Commission filed more than 1,700 disclosure forms to meet the state deadline this week.

The huge sums of money being spent on lobbying efforts drew continued criticism by the head of one government watchdog group.

"The ability of special interests to buy their way in to government is the single most damaging factor in our political reality today," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

"Obviously, a whole bunch of special interests considered it was worth $20 million per year," said Skullney, herself a paid lobbyist on campaign finance and other reform measures.

Activity by gambling interests came in a year when legislation to legalize slot machines at Maryland's racetracks -- to compete with tracks in Delaware and West Virginia -- never got out of committee.

The legislature did approve a $10 million aid package for the state's racing industry, a measure that calls for the industry to study the feasibility of building a new horse track to replace existing facilities.

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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