Lobbyist defends role in Annapolis fundraising event


February 20, 2007|By Jennifer Skalka | Jennifer Skalka,SUN REPORTER

An Annapolis lobbyist responsible for collecting sponsorship ticket money for the Legislative Follies defended his role in the event yesterday.

Laurence Levitan, a former state legislator, said that he did not sell tickets to the March 28 event. He also said he complied with state law that prohibits lobbyists from engaging "in any charitable fundraising activity at the request of an official or employee."

"No elected official has asked me to raise funds, nor have I raised any for this worthwhile charity, therefore it is clearly permissible under the law," Levitan said. "Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible."

The Sun reported Saturday that Levitan is vice chairman of the board of the Thomas Hunter Lowe Scholarship Fund, the nonprofit group that receives Follies proceeds. A Feb. 7 letter signed by fund Chairman Lawrence A. LaMotte and addressed to "Friends of the Legislative Follies" asks that sponsorship checks be mailed to Levitan at his lobbying firm: Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver LLC. Levitan said in an interview last week that he would deposit the checks in the bank.

The Follies is a 30-year General Assembly tradition, a night of sketch comedy and singing in which lawmakers are the stars - and many buy tickets in the audience for themselves, their staffs, families and friends. Lawmakers used to run the fund, but to prevent them from soliciting from lobbyists, the responsibility was turned over to a panel of former lawmakers. Three of the current fund board members, however, are also lobbyists.

Julian Lapides, chairman of the Maryland State Ethics Commission, which monitors lobbyist behavior, said yesterday that the legislature should determine whether lobbyists "should be permitted to raise funds with a legislative-associated project."

"The purpose is meritorious, of course," he said. "But I think it would be best handled by an independent commission or board of nonlobbyists and persons not doing business with the state of Maryland." Lapides said Levitan told him that he would ask the commission for an official opinion about his involvement with the fund - whose proceeds provide scholarship money to Washington College - and the Follies. "We will look into it and give him an answer," Lapides said.

William Somerville, counsel to the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, said he does not believe Levitan did anything wrong. "I don't think that this situation is a violation of the letter or the spirit or the intent of the law," he said. "Lobbyists selling tickets to legislators is not the same as legislators selling tickets to lobbyists. The law was written to address the other way around with legislators selling to lobbyists, and lobbyists ingratiating themselves by buying tickets."


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