Another blemish on Assembly

Another lobbyist falls: Delegate Fulton was acquitted, but the Assembly stands indicted.

July 15, 2000

IN FEDERAL court yesterday, a jury found Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans guilty of secretly arranging to have his clients threatened with harmful legislation -- and then offering to save them for a fee.

Simultaneously in the court of public opinion, the General Assembly was convicted of sustaining a culture in which such machinations were possible.

In this case, the lobbyist relied on the good offices of a legislator, Baltimore's Del. Tony E. Fulton, to have the potentially damaging bill introduced. Never actually filed, the measure would have made it easier to sue big paint companies.

During his testimony, Delegate Fulton indicted the rest of the assembly, suggesting that members routinely do such things.

Some favor-swapping can be harmless in a legislature. Some is even healthy since lobbyists are often the most knowledgeable players on complicated issues.

But relationships can get too close. Prosecutors said lobbyist Evans steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Mr. Fulton as compensation for services rendered. The letter but not the spirit of ethics legislation was followed here.

In the current culture, some lobbyists and legislators see no harm in financial relationships -- and argue that they are unavoidable in a citizen assembly. Phooey. They must be explicitly forbidden.

In his summation, Evans' lawyer suggested that his client had no need of such a complicated scheme. This was true enough. Gerry Evans was prospering. A man of charm and connections, he had become one of the assembly's top earners.

Such status is fleeting, however, so the unwise practitioner may try to further boost his ranking. The top guys tend to get the new clients because business figures the bottom line doesn't lie: If you're making a lot, you must be good at what you're doing.

Lobbyists and legislators must learn to operate at arm's length. It should be possible. One former senator refused to ride on elevators with lobbyists.

Something pretty close to that remedy is needed right now.

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