Delegate's actions and votes clash

Authorities probe Fulton's connection to two lobbyists

He sent letter to mayor

Call to ease suits against companies produced no bill

May 08, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland | Thomas W. Waldron and Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

State Del. Tony E. Fulton's effort last fall to make it easier to sue manufacturers of asbestos, lead paint and other harmful substances conflicts sharply with his voting record in the General Assembly the last two years.

In a letter sent in October to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, which is part of a federal investigation into Fulton's relationship with two prominent Annapolis lobbyists, the legislator promised to introduce sweeping legislation in this year's General Assembly session aimed at such manufacturers, and he asked for the mayor's support.

The West Baltimore Democrat railed in the letter against "shams like statute of limitations" and called for allowing civil lawsuit plaintiffs to prove their cases against the manufacturers using "statistical evidence," just as the General Assembly has done for plaintiffs against tobacco companies.

But this year and last, Fulton voted against key pieces of legislation that had a similar emphasis, siding with corporate interests.

For example, Fulton was one of two delegates from Baltimore to vote last year against the bill that made it easier for the state to sue tobacco companies by allowing plaintiffs to present statistics on tobacco-related diseases. The measure narrowly passed the House of Delegates and Senate and became law.

Despite his opposition to the bill, Fulton referred to it in his letter to Schmoke, asking, "As in tobacco cases, why can't people prove their case by statistical evidence?"

The West Baltimore Democrat's voting record might come under scrutiny as part of a federal investigation that centers on his relationship with the State House lobbyists, Gerard E. Evans and John R. Stierhoff.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Evans and Stierhoff secretly pushed Fulton to introduce the lead paint and asbestos legislation as a way of generating new or increased business from corporate clients who would want the bill killed, according to sources and documents.

FBI agents and the U.S. attorney's office also are examining whether the lobbyists had any role in drafting the letter in which Fulton sought support from Schmoke, which would have boosted the bill's chances of passage, the sources said. Schmoke did not respond in writing to Fulton's letter, and Fulton did not follow through with his plan to introduce the bill.

Fulton did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. Stierhoff and Evans also did not respond to messages left for them yesterday.

In another key vote this year that clashed with his stance in the letter to Schmoke, Fulton voted against a bill that would lift a ceiling on damages for pain and suffering in hundreds of cases brought by people injured on the job by exposure to asbestos or other dangerous substances.

Fulton was the only Baltimore delegate who voted against the measure, which cleared the House of Delegates 84-52 but died in a Senate committee.

In his letter to Schmoke, Fulton said asbestos and lead paint manufacturers "reaped huge profits and denied claims and responsibility. This must change, please help me put victims first."

Fulton told Schmoke in the letter that he was putting together a coalition to fight for the bill, but he appeared to do little toward that end.

Advocates who have worked for years on behalf of lead-paint victims said Fulton has never been a key to their efforts and did not tell them about his planned legislation in the fall.

"I can't imagine if it was a serious attempt to push this, we wouldn't know about it," said Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning. "He's just not someone who has stood out as an advocate for our position. He is not a guy who was out there pushing these issues."

With Fulton's legislative record drawing close examination, questions have also emerged about a bill he introduced this year that would have banned the use of synthetic bovine growth hormone in livestock used to produce milk for sale.

At a House Environmental Matters Committee hearing March 10, a representative of Monsanto Co., which makes the hormone, and six other witnesses from the agriculture community and chemical industry testified against the bill.

No one except Fulton testified for it, and he was far from optimistic, beginning his remarks by acknowledging that the bill had little chance of passage, an unusual tactic for a bill's sponsor. But Fulton told the committee that he intended to continue pushing the issue in coming years.

The day of the hearing, the Monsanto representative, Susan Mora, told another opponent, Maryland state veterinarian Roger E. Olson, that she was concerned that the hormone bill had been introduced at the urging of a lobbyist looking to generate business.

"She said something like, `I can't believe this could happen, but certain things point to it,' " Olson said yesterday. "We were all curious what did bring about the introduction of the bill."

Olson said he could not remember which lobbyist Mora thought was responsible for the bill's introduction. Mora did not respond to several requests for comment this week.

Another source with ties to Monsanto said Fulton introduced the bill months after Mora, government relations director with the company, discussed the issue with Evans in his Annapolis office.

According to the source, Evans told Mora, who is based in Washington, in the fall that he wanted Monsanto as a client. Mora told Evans that Monsanto would not need a lobbyist in Annapolis unless a bovine growth hormone bill was introduced, the source said.

Once Fulton introduced his bill, Monsanto did not hire an Annapolis lobbyist and instead sent Mora to testify.

Ten days after the hearing, the committee killed the bill 16-2.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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