P.G. slates offer a twist Lawmakers invite four lobbyists to run with them

Arrangement is legal

Miller says candidates were recruited to energize local party

September 12, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Senate president and most other Prince George's County legislators are running for re-election on tickets that include four lobbyists who represent a host of special-interest clients before the General Assembly.

The arrangement, while legal, demonstrates just how cozy relations can become between lobbyists and the lawmakers they seek to influence.

The Prince George's legislators recruited lobbyists Gary R. Alexander, Joel D. Rozner, John P. McDonough and Minervia W. Riddick to run for seats on the county's Democratic central committee. The obscure panel's chief responsibility is to fill vacancies in the legislature, most often at the direction of the county senators.

The central committee members also will work to elect Democrats, including the incumbent legislators, in the Nov. 3 general election.

While state ethics law generally discourages close relationships between lobbyists and legislators, there is nothing that prohibits lobbyists from serving on central committees or from running on the same tickets with lawmakers.

But critics say the arrangement is fraught with inherent conflicts.

"It just boggles the mind. It's totally outrageous," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a government watchdog group. "You'd have to be dead not to see the conflicts."

Joyce Lyons Terhes, who heads the state Republican Party, called the move by the Democrats "a blatant disregard for ethics."

"This is the old-boy back-room politics that existed years ago in Prince George's County," Terhes said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, an architect of the plan to recruit the lobbyists, said he did so in an effort to energize the local party. He noted that all four have histories in county politics that began long before their lobbying work.

"We're not asking lobbyists to serve, we're asking old friends," Miller said. The four will be needed in November, he said, "to organize the precincts, help fund the ballot and help organize the Get-Out-The-Vote effort."

Tickets not illegal

Charles O. Monk II, chairman of the State Ethics Commission, declined to address specifics of the Prince George's County situation. But he noted a ruling by the commission earlier this year that lobbyists are free to run for public office, provided they abide by ethics laws that prohibit them from directly soliciting campaign contributions for candidates for statewide office or the legislature.

They can, however, tell their corporate clients which campaigns they might want to support.

"The ethics statute was not designed to remove from people who happen to be lobbyists their rights as citizens," Monk said.

Miller said the four lobbyists will not be contributing any money toward the campaign literature and sample ballots sent out to county voters before Tuesday's primary election. That election will determine the central committee members for each party, including whether Alexander, Rozner, McDonough and Riddick will fill four of the 21 open Democratic slots.

"There's nothing venal or illegal about what we're doing," Miller said. "They're going to obey the laws."

Historical precedent

At least one other lobbyist has held a central committee post in the past -- Gerard E. Evans, who also ran on Miller's ticket. Evans, who even chaired the county's central committee, resigned from the panel last year after moving to Anne Arundel County.

The four lobbyists running this time are readily recognizable names in both county political circles and in Annapolis.

Alexander, Rozner and McDonough are all private lawyers with multiple lobbying clients in Annapolis. Riddick is a lobbyist for the Washington Gas Light Co. and the wife of Major F. Riddick, Gov. Parris N. Glendening's chief of staff.

Lobbyists defend move

All four said they were running in an attempt to help the county party and defended their right to do so.

Riddick and McDonough are running countywide for two of six at-large central committee seats. Both are members of each of the seven slates organized by the county's state senators, according to election board documents. The slates also include 18 of the county's 21 state delegates, as well as statewide candidates endorsed by the senators.

Alexander, among the highest-paid lobbyists in Annapolis and a former member of the House of Delegates, is running on Miller's slate for one of two central committee slots in the Senate president's district, the 27th.

"What would be the conflict?" Alexander asked. "Lobbyists have rights, too. We're citizens."

Rozner, a member of the Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver law firm, is running for one of two central committee positions in the 21st District on a ticket with Sen. Arthur Dorman, the vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

"I have a long-standing relationship with these people," Rozner said. "We've been friends for years and running on the same slate is not going to change my relationship. I'm not doing anything that benefits them financially. It's not even a close call."

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