Well-suited partners with good connections

Lobbyists in probe flourish in business of schmoozing Assembly

May 07, 1999|By C. Fraser Smith and Greg Garland | C. Fraser Smith and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

As a lobbying team, they are a perfect fit, their skills and personalities meshing in ways sublimely suited to working the will of corporate clients.

Gerard E. Evans, 43, portly and droll, fills the corridors of Annapolis with laughter and stories that compete for the attention of harried legislators. A former Democratic Party official in Prince George's County, Evans has a wealth of State House contacts.

His partner, John R. Stierhoff, 44, intense and solicitous, brings legislative skills honed over a decade as chief legislative aide to the president of the state Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Both are close friends and political allies of Miller, a man whose blessing is a bankable asset. The two are "very professional and very smart," says Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But he said their success is due largely to one factor: "They're well-connected."

Now, though, their activities have come under the scrutiny of federal authorities who, sources say, are conducting a "serious" criminal investigation of their lobbying practices. The inquiry focuses on whether the firm attempted to gain clients -- or increased fees -- from companies that feared legislation that could make them vulnerable to large financial judgments in lead paint or asbestos poisoning lawsuits, according to sources.

FBI agents are attempting to learn whether Evans and Stierhoff persuaded Del. Tony E. Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, to prepare legislation that would pose such a threat to their clients.

Fulton's plans were outlined in a letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, which was made public yesterday by City Hall. Sources say the FBI wants to know if Fulton's letter was drafted by Evans and Stierhoff's firm.

Defense by colleagues

After an article in The Sun yesterday disclosed the investigation, legislative and lobbying colleagues of Evans and Stierhoff's rebuffed any suggestion that they might have created a threat to cash in with clients.

The Senate president called the investigation "a hatchet job" instigated by other Annapolis lobbyists.

"I just think it's really unfortunate," Miller said. "It is a dirty business."

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation, said: "I think it's unlikely that lobbyists, whoever they are, would encourage a legislator to file legislation so they could then fight the legislation. Companies hire lobbyists on retainer to look after their interests -- to discourage bad legislation, not encourage it."

Over the past several years, the firm of Evans and Stierhoff has climbed to the pinnacle of the lucrative business of Assembly lobbying, gaining many new clients and pushing their annual earnings to more than $1.5 million.

Their well-paying clients, representative of corporations and organizations with business before the General Assembly, covered a broad spectrum that included the Washington Redskins and paint and asbestos manufacturers.

Last year, for example, they represented Lockheed Martin, which paid them at least $60,000, according to state records; Delmarva Poultry, $60,000; Maryland State and D.C. Professional Firefighters, $8,000; Glaxo Wellcome, the drug company, $19,999.98; Harvey's Casino's, $20,000; and gun manufacturer Beretta U.S.A. Corp., $12,000.

The two operate from a carefully restored and elegantly refurbished office building two blocks from the State House that they bought last year.

The purchase of the building -- the historic John Callahan House on Conduit Street -- resulted in a $9,000 real estate fee to Fulton which, sources say, attracted the attention of federal authorities and may be part of the current probe.

Political schmoozing

Like most high-profile Annapolis lobbyists, Evans and Stierhoff dutifully attend dozens of political fund-raising dinners and receptions for Maryland politicians ranging from the governor to members of the House of Delegates.

As lobbying the General Assembly has become increasingly lucrative, competition among lobbyists has become more intense. Evans and Stierhoff, their often-envious colleagues say, are among the most aggressive in pursuing clients.

Evans, who recently built a house in the Annapolis area and for a time drove a black, late-model Porsche, is said to be the more proficient rainmaker -- the partner who pushes for new business opportunities.

Known as a compulsive schmoozer with a ready laugh and reputation as a political insider, Evans is a close associate of Nathan Landow, the Bethesda developer who was chairman of the state Democratic Party and a major fund-raiser for national Democrats.

"He even schmoozed me," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, a citizens lobby that has been critical of lobbying practices -- and unlikely to welcome lobbying from the industry's leader.

While he no longer works for Miller, Stierhoff remains devoted to his friend and patron, for whom he continues to do various chores. He was a member of the ethics commission headed by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, that produced recommendations for changes in laws governing behavior of members of the General Assembly.

Both lobbyists have maintained connections with charitable organizations: Stierhoff works with First Book of Baltimore, which tries to provide at least one book a month to children in low-income families. Evans has lobbied without pay for the New Song Urban Ministries, one of Fulton's favorite causes.

Former Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrest, for whom Evans once worked, has also been associated with the ministries.

Pub Date: 5/07/99

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