Bereano should pay the price for abuses

Lobbyist's transgressions: He and those who rushed to defend him dishonor political profession.

October 04, 1999

ANOTHER tour de force of lobbying by the masterful Bruce Bereano cannot be allowed to obscure his felony conviction -- and the necessity of removing him from the practice of law.

He should be disbarred or, at least, suspended from practice for a substantial length of time.

Mr. Bereano's breathtaking success at enlisting the mighty to his defense (a retinue that included the presiding judge in his case!) demonstrates only that Mr. Bereano's skill in developing relationships is second to none.

Lawyers of lesser networking skills would certainly meet a loss of license.

It doesn't matter that Mr. Bereano's clients do not feel defrauded. Many continue to retain him in Annapolis, and several testified on his behalf at trial and again during his disbarment hearing.

That so many feel so comfortable with his finagling goes to the heart of the ethical miasma as we know it: The law and the process of lawmaking has lost respect among its most skilled practitioners, men and women who have embraced expediency so fully they hardly remember the honorable way.

If no lash of condemnation is felt -- if hosannas are raised in their honor -- why shouldn't they continue on this course?

Mr. Bereano used money paid to him by clients for expenses to make campaign contributions. Having reached his contribution limits, Mr. Bereano funneled the cash through "nominee" contributors -- then reimbursed them to keep his name off the public record.

In his defense, he asserts that the government proved only fraudulent activities amounting to $600, so he should receive little more than a reprimand. That is not the point, of course. The law is the law -- to be honored and obeyed for a reason.

Campaign finance rules are already a playground for the rich and famous -- whose transgressions are often treated as harmless misdemeanors.

Track baron Joseph A. De Francis washed $12,000 in political contributions using Mr. Bereano's technique: In 1994, relatives wrote checks to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mr. De Francis reimbursed them. Save for the embarrassment, his penalty was mild.

Censure in these matters must be extended also to those who solicit the contributions -- of Mr. De Francis, Mr. Bereano and others who are called upon to raise big bucks for big campaigns -- finding their ways through and around the ground rules as they go.

If Mr. Bereano loved the law as much as he loved currying favor with lawmakers, he would not be in the lamentable state he now struggles to evade.

If it is true that he was convicted of being a lobbyist -- who is expected to bend the rules and break the laws -- all the more reason for making his punishment severe.

Those public officials who testified on his behalf are to be commended for their loyalty -- but they should be excoriated for their willingness to intercede on behalf of an insider friend.

The judges who rallied to defend this criminal should be especially ashamed.

The sad part of this matter is that Mr. Bereano probably does respect the law in the abstract.

A little more discipline when his bankroller's image was on the line would have served him better. With at least two other lobbyists under scrutiny by law enforcement officials, the importance of a clear sanction here cannot be overstated.

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