Lobbyist knew Fulton planned lead paint bill

Evans sent 2 clients a copy of delegate's letter to Schmoke

State House ties probed

May 12, 1999|By Greg Garland and Thomas W. Waldron | Greg Garland and Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

While few if any legislators, lobbyists or activists knew that Del. Tony E. Fulton planned last fall to introduce sweeping legislation targeting lead paint manufacturers, one person who had advance knowledge was lobbyist Gerard E. Evans.

And Evans, the highest-paid lobbyist in Annapolis, made sure that his paint company clients knew, too.

Evans obtained a copy of an October letter from Fulton to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke outlining his proposed bill and forwarded it to at least two of his clients -- paint manufacturers that would have been hurt by the legislation, sources with the companies told The Sun.

Those two companies and two other paint manufacturers paid Evans a combined $135,000 since November 1996 to ward off such legislation, state records show.

Fulton never introduced such legislation. The West Baltimore Democrat's dealings with Evans, 43, and his partner, John R. Stierhoff, 44, are the focus of a criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office and a federal grand jury.

Among other things, investigators are trying to determine whether the lobbying firm prodded Fulton to propose the legislation to help generate business and whether it had a role in preparing his letter to Schmoke, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Federal authorities also are examining a real estate transaction last fall in which Evans and Stierhoff steered Fulton, a Baltimore-based real estate agent, a commission of about $9,000 when they purchased a $600,000 Annapolis office building.

Evans, Stierhoff and Fulton did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday. They have not responded to interview requests since the federal probe was disclosed in The Sun last week.

Three paint manufacturers who have been clients of Evans' firm -- Glidden Paint Co. and Sherwin-Williams Co., both based in Cleveland, and Millennium Inorganic Chemicals of Red Bank, N.J. -- confirmed yesterday that federal authorities have subpoenaed documents relating to services provided by the Evans and Stierhoff lobbying firm.

Spokesmen for the three companies said this week that they are cooperating with federal investigators.

Glidden and Millennium officials said their companies terminated relationships with Evans and Stierhoff last week.

"We have terminated the relationship within the past week or so," said Michael T. Nilan, an attorney for Millennium. "In light of the developments that have been reported, the company did not think it was in its best interests to continue with the relationship at this time."

A spokesman for Sherwin-Williams said Evans remains under annual contract as the company's Maryland lobbyist.

In his Oct. 5, 1998, letter to Schmoke, Fulton sought the mayor's support for proposed sweeping legislation that would have enabled victims of lead paint poisoning and substances such as asbestos to more easily prove their cases against manufacturers.

The bill would have allowed plaintiffs in civil lawsuits to allocate damages against a manufacturer based on that company's "market share" of the total lead paint market -- sparing plaintiffs the task of proving which company supplied the paint that caused harm.

Schmoke, who said he has been interviewed by federal investigators, did not respond in writing to Fulton's request for help on the bill. Instead, Schmoke jotted a note to another city official on Fulton's letter, asking to hear more about the proposed legislation.

Nilan said Millennium retained the Evans firm two years ago "in connection with the threat of market share legislation" -- something he said could have significant impact on Millennium and other paint companies.

"We are cooperating fully with the authorities," Nilan said. "We have received a subpoena and are cooperating with them in responding to the subpoena."

He would not disclose what documents are being sought by federal prosecutors.

Although Millennium has ended its relationship with Evans and Stierhoff, Nilan said company officials are making no judgment on whether the allegations under investigation are true.

"It doesn't necessarily indicate that we have drawn a conclusion on the merits of the allegations one way or the other," Nilan said.

John F. O'Rourke, a spokesman for Glidden, said the company has severed ties with Evans and Stierhoff in the wake of the federal probe of their lobbying practices.

A lawyer for Glidden said the company terminated its agreement with Evans and Stierhoff late last week, shortly after Glidden was subpoenaed.

Since November 1996, Evans has been paid fees totaling $135,000 by four paint companies -- $45,000 by Sherwin-Williams, $22,500 by Glidden, $22,500 by Millennium, and $45,000 by NL Industries of Houston, according to reports filed by Evans with the State Ethics Commission.

Additional reports listing the fees paid to Evans and other State House lobbyists for the recently concluded General Assembly session are to be filed at the end of the month.

On reports filed in past years with the ethics commission, Evans lists the "market share" legislation as the only issue he was tracking for the firms. No such bill has been introduced in the Assembly during the past three sessions.

A key legislator and an activist on lead paint poisoning issues said in recent interviews that Fulton had never informed them of his plans to introduce major liability legislation.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat who has been a leading lawmaker on lead paint issues, said he was unaware of Fulton ever getting actively involved in the subject.

And Ruth Ann Norton, executive director of the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, said that she has worked with Rosenberg and other legislators over the years on lead paint issues, but that Fulton has never been active on that problem.

Pub Date: 5/12/99

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