Lobbyists continue to prosper

A dozen collected at least $250,000 each this session

High-stakes legislation

Issues pitted special interests against one another

June 02, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

A dozen State House lobbyists raked in at least a quarter-million dollars each representing special interests during this year's General Assembly session, according to reports filed this week.

Among them was Gerard E. Evans, who collected $397,000 in fees despite being under a federal mail-fraud indictment, accused of bilking some of his clients. That amount, while impressive, was sharply less than the $623,000 Evans collected during the 1999 session.

The payments, which were listed in reports filed by the lobbyists with the State Ethics Commission, provide a vivid overview of a State House industry that has grown dramatically in the past 20 years.

The reports cover the six-month period ending April 30, but the bulk of the fees are for work performed during the 90-day General Assembly session.

The fees came as the Assembly grappled with complex issues that pitted well-financed special interests against each other, with significant amounts of money at stake.

Med-Chi, the state medical society, paid lobbyist Joseph A. Schwartz III $160,030 to handle its legislative agenda. Meanwhile, one of the doctors' chief opponents in the State House, the Maryland Association of Health Plans, paid lobbyist D. Robert Enten $114,255.

Enten said it's a necessity for health interests to have representation in the State House.

"Decisions are made in Annapolis that affect businesses in the tens of millions of dollars," Enten said. "You think if there's that kind of money at stake, people aren't going to hire someone to represent their interests? I don't think there's anything unseemly about that."

Among the top earning lobbyists, former state Del. Gary R. Alexander reported the highest income -- a little more than $476,000 received from 59 clients ranging from the Baltimore Ravens to the pilots who guide ships up the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, his lobbying partners received at least $395,000 in payments from clients, according to reports filed with the ethics commission by this week's deadline.

Alexander's firm, which operates out of a building across the street from the State House, also had some of the biggest entertainment expenses of any lobbying firm -- spending $17,000 on receptions for legislators on the session's opening and closing days.

Clients' spending

His clients spent thousands of dollars more. For example, Medstar Health, which owns a chain of hospitals, picked up the $47,000 bill for a reception and a luncheon for the 188-member Assembly.

The reports also showed:

Although Evans' fees dropped, those of his lobbying partner during the session, John R. Stierhoff, climbed from $294,000 to $326,000. Stierhoff left his partnership with Evans this week to join a Baltimore-based law firm.

Bruce C. Bereano continued to rebuild his lobbying business after his conviction on federal mail-fraud charges in 1994, collecting $417,000 in fees -- up from $280,000 last year. The increase came despite Bereano's losing his law license in January.

Special interests maintained their lavish spending on meals and entertainment for legislators -- ranging from steak dinners and a St. Patrick's Day pub party to crab feasts and a trip to the movies in Washington. The Maryland Asphalt Association splurged on dinner at the Maryland Inn for the 23-member House Ways and Means Committee -- at a cost of almost $2,000.

Under a law that went into effect last fall, lobbyists can no longer buy a meal for an individual legislator but can pick up the tab if a legislative committee or the entire General Assembly is invited.

An established group

The top-earning lobbyists are a well-established group -- all men -- that includes three former legislators, a handful of former Assembly staff members and several Baltimore-based lawyers who moved into the lobbying field.

Some observers said the continuing escalation of lobbying fees may hurt the public's participation in the legislative process.

"If you can't afford to pay a high-priced lobbyist, the system now limits your access to legislators," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, the House Republican whip in the Democratic-controlled legislature. "And that is a very bad result."

"It's becoming an extraordinarily exclusive club -- the elected officials and the small percentage of lobbyists who can command that kind of fee," said Kathleen S. Skullney, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland, an advocacy group that supports stricter ethics laws.

The lobbying reports also outline the scope of grass-roots activities by some special interests.

The Baltimore Building and Construction Trades Council reported spending $45,000 on postcards and radio ads supporting legislation to expand the state's pro-labor prevailing wage law to cover school construction projects.

The group also spent $30,000 apiece for its two lobbyists -- former Dels. Gerald J. Curran and Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis.

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

Lobbying fees

Here is a list of the top-earning State House lobbyists for the six-month period ended April 30, which includes the 2000 General Assembly session:

Gary R. Alexander $476,174

Alan M. Rifkin 459,155

D. Robert Enten 455,065

Bruce C. Bereano 417,750

Gerard E. Evans 397,830

Joseph A. Schwartz III 385,680

J. William Pitcher 375,667

Dennis F. Rasmussen 342,756

John R. Stierhoff 326,857

James J. Doyle Jr. 296,023

Dennis C. McCoy 295,384

Ira C. Cooke 279,917

Paul A. Tiburzi 248,988

Source: Financial disclosure reports filed by lobbyists with the State Ethics Commission.

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