Familiar faces get new roles in capital

Hoffman, Taylor prepare for 1st session as lobbyists

Influential lawmakers lost in '02

December 01, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

When the year's final lobbying activity reports land today, two familiar Annapolis names will appear among them: former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and former Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman.

The two former legislative heavyweights are gearing up to begin their first General Assembly session as lobbyists instead of lawmakers. And all told, they're a bit anxious for the annual 90-day session to begin Jan. 14.

"I feel very good about it," said Taylor, whose 43 clients include CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Lockheed Martin Corp. "I'm back in the arena I've spent much of my life for the last 28 years."

For Hoffman, the client list - which includes the Baltimore Zoo and the nonprofit Safe and Sound youth organization - is much smaller, with about a half-dozen for the session. But the excitement couldn't be any greater.

"I miss the people," said Hoffman, who just as Taylor did, left office after an election defeat last year. "I'm doing my thing in a different way. I like this a lot."

The new role for Taylor and Hoffman is perhaps one of the greatest plums for having served in legislative leadership for years. Lobbyists have the ability to influence and help shape legislation while commanding high compensation for their services.

Because of the influential role lobbying plays in the legislative process, the number of registered lobbyists in Maryland has gone from about 200 in the early 1980s to about 700 now. They represent more than 1,000 employers.

As speaker, Taylor, a 28-year Democratic delegate from Allegany County, was the highest-ranking official in the House. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat who served 20 years in the legislature, lost her seat after becoming the most powerful woman in Annapolis as chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Both are highly regarded for the depth of their understanding of the political process and for the wide range of relationships they built during their time in the legislature.

Because of their stature and the relationships they have built, ethics officials and government watchdogs warn that the former lawmakers will have to carefully consider the activities they participate in.

"I think that both [Taylor and Hoffman] and the legislature have to be careful," said Suzanne S. Fox, executive director of the State Ethics Commission.

"I think the most different thing is ... not mixing socially," Fox said. "To me, after you spend 15 to 20 years having the same friends ... it would seem almost natural to pull up a chair at a restaurant."

Because of what a federal judge described as a "culture of corruption" that was growing in Annapolis related to lobbying and other activities, Maryland law prohibits lobbyists from taking a senator or delegate out to eat. The law permits paying for meals or receptions for committees or for the entire Assembly.

The state also requires a former legislator to wait at least a year after leaving office to begin any lobbying activities. Some government watchdog organizations, such as Common Cause Maryland, say there should be a separation of at least two years to help guard against undue influence by former lawmakers.

In Taylor and Hoffman is "so much of the institutional member of the General Assembly," said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. "But now when people listen to them, they're getting more than a history lesson. They're getting the agenda of the people they're lobbying for."

Taylor was hired by the high-powered and well-established lobbying firm of Alexander & Cleaver. The firm is led by Maryland's top income-producing lobbyist - Gary R. Alexander, who received $881,693 in compensation during the last 12-month reporting period, which ended Oct. 31 of last year.

Hoffman is part of a smaller operation, the Artemis Group, that is opening its new Annapolis office. The carpet was laid last week, and she expects phone service to begin and furniture to be delivered this week.

Hoffman said she is aware of the balancing act she'll have to perform in her new job and as a former legislator. But she said she is looking forward to taking on the task.

"I think I have a certain level of credibility, and I'm not going to damage it," Hoffman said.

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