Lobbyists maintain high-level spending

BGE, industry spent $2.1 million to gain electric deregulation

Bereano received $305,000

June 02, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron and Michael Dresser | Thomas W. Waldron and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

In their successful effort to open Maryland's electricity market to competition, utilities and heavy industrial users of energy spent $2.1 million on General Assembly lobbying expenses during the past six months, according to reports filed by the companies yesterday.

The corporations' lobbying budget appeared to set a record for a single bill in the State House and dwarfed that of consumer and environmental groups, which spent less than $25,000 trying to stop or soften the legislation.

Leading the way was Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which spent well over $1 million on lobbyists and an expensive campaign to generate public support for electric utility deregulation, according to the company's reports filed with the State Ethics Commission. Potomac Electric Power Co., which supplies power to the Washington suburbs, spent more than $400,000.

Meanwhile, lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano continued to earn a good living despite having to begin a five-month federal sentence for mail fraud in a Baltimore halfway house early in the 90-day legislative session.

Bereano, who was convicted in 1994, received compensation and expenses of more than $305,000 from 35 clients for the six-month period ending April 30, a slight decrease from his earnings a year ago, according to his reports.

The lobbyist was allowed to leave the halfway house to work in his Annapolis office during the day, but returned at night and on weekends.

Under the terms of his confinement, Bereano was not allowed to visit the State House or legislative office buildings, but continued to lobby by phone or over meals with lawmakers.

"It's really a testament to the relationship I have with my clients," Bereano said. "These are clients who have stuck with me throughout the whole ordeal. I worked real hard and was able to satisfy them this past session."

`Remarkable commentary'

Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, which advocates stricter ethics laws, said Bereano's performance over the past six months speaks volumes about the ethical culture of the State House.

"It's a remarkable commentary on the lobbying industry, and especially the inner circle of lobbyists in Annapolis, that an individual convicted of a felony continues to be regarded as an influential and persuasive messenger of special interests," Skullney said.

The amount that special interests pay to influence Maryland legislation has zoomed upward in recent years.

Twenty years ago, lobbyists reported expenditures totaling $2.8 million. For the year ended Oct. 31, 1998, that number had climbed to $22.8 million. Final numbers for the current year will be available after lobbyists file reports this fall.

Some lobbyists' reports were not filed or not available yesterday, so it was impossible to determine the total spent on lobbying during the six-month period.

But the reports that were filed showed that lobbyists continued to entertain lavishly even as the General Assembly was enacting a stricter ethics law designed to place greater distance between lawmakers and special interests.

Bereano, for example, reported giving hockey and basketball tickets worth $5,580 to three delegates -- $1,900 worth to Talmadge Branch, $1,650 worth to Tony E. Fulton and $2,030 worth to Nathaniel T. Oaks, all Baltimore Democrats. The lobbyist also gave one $50 Washington Redskins ticket to Sen. Arthur Dorman, a Prince George's Democrat.

Under the new ethics law, which will be in effect during next year's legislative session, Bereano would be prohibited from giving such tickets to lawmakers.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus handed out more than $4,300 in tickets to dozens of legislators as part of its successful effort to kill a bill that would have banned the use of circus elephants in Maryland. And the National Aquarium in Baltimore, which receives substantial state subsidies, gave out about $3,000 in free tickets to lawmakers.

Companies and some lobbyists also continued to spend on receptions for legislators.

The lobbying firm of Gerard E. Evans and John R. Stierhoff reported spending $14,162 for a reception on the final day of the session at their Annapolis office -- a party they threw on their own behalf, not for any client.

Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos spent more than $24,500 for two dozen separate meals for committees and individual lawmakers in his effort to gain passage of a bill to lift a cap on damages in certain legal cases involving asbestos poisoning. That means that Angelos spent, on average, more than $130 to wine and dine each of the 188 members of the Assembly. Nonetheless, the bill died.

But it was the electricity deregulation issue that drew the heaviest lobbying, with at least 20 well-paid advocates pushing for passage of the bill.

Michael Delaney, a spokesman for BGE, said much of the company's expenditure went to a public education campaign aimed at the company's 1.1 million customers, including a four-page advertising supplement in The Sun.

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