Annapolis shenanigans persist

Anything goes: Intense competition for clients' business leads to unethical conduct.

September 23, 2000

HERE WE GO again. Another top State House lobbyist winds up in court over his unethical conduct in the cutthroat lobbying game.

This time, it's Ira C. Cooke, a prominent pleader for businesses in Annapolis. He was accused by a client of fraud, forgery and malpractice. The case was settled in April, but the charges in the federal civil suit are strikingly similar to another episode that led to lobbyist Gerard E. Evans' conviction on criminal charges of defrauding a client.

The judge in the Cooke case found there was enough evidence to proceed to trial. The charge against Mr. Cooke was that he misled a casino company in its attempt to open a Cecil County slot-machine emporium. That abortive effort cost the company $1 million.

The two sides tried to hush-up the lawsuit and the settlement, according to Sun reporters Walter F. Roche Jr. and Thomas W. Waldron. But the behavior outlined in this lawsuit is indicative of how out of control lobbyists are in Annapolis.

What rules are there to temper lobbyists' rush to sign up clients, press for higher fees and then pressure legislators? Not many. At least, not many that are effective.

A study commission is recommending licensing of lobbyists, a code of conduct and penalties that include license suspension or revocation for violators. These steps might put some integrity back in the lobbying trade.

But it could be tough to get state legislators to crack down on lobbyist pals who play a key role in filling the incumbents' campaign coffers.

Nonetheless, leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly ought to back the study commission's recommendations. Lobbying the General Assembly should be an honorable profession, not a shady sideshow in the never-ending quest for influence and money.

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