The delegation accompanying Gov. Martin O'Malley on his Asian trade mission includes at least one lobbyist. And the e-mail from her Annapolis firm this week was almost boastful.
"As far as we know, Hannah is the only registered lobbyist on the trip and we are extraordinary pleased that she has a chance to represent our client and our firm," the chief operating officer of the government relations division at Alexander & Cleaver wrote to clients.
"If you have any important messages that you want her to deliver to the Governor, please contact her before Sunday!"
On Friday, ethics advocates said the participation of a lobbyist in the governor's 10-day trip to China, Korea and Vietnam raises questions, rival lobbyists said it was unusual, and a spokesman for O'Malley called the e-mail Thursday by Robin F. Shaivitz "unfortunate."
Lobbyist Hannah Powers, who plans to join the delegation for the Korean leg of the trip next week, said there was nothing improper about her participation. She said she will be traveling with client Jim Oberhaus of JX3 Energy, a Cumberland firm looking to expand its relationship with a Korean steel maker. She said her firm would pay her expenses.
"I'm strictly going for JX3 Energy and we're looking for improving economic development in Western Maryland through our partnership with POSCO," Powers said. "To me, it makes perfect sense."
Shaivitz, meanwhile, called her e-mail "innocuous." She said she sends a weekly message to clients.
"If you have good will, pass it along – that was what I meant by it," she told a Baltimore Sun reporter. "You're reading a lot more into it than I gave thought to it."
She said she had not received any messages from clients for the governor.
A spokesman for O'Malley called the e-mail "an unfortunate example of the firm attempting to promote itself with regard to this trip."
"The fact of the matter is this particular lobbyist is on the trip representing her client and her client's interests in the Far East," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. "Beyond that, she will have limited interaction with the governor."
O'Malley is leading 68 business leaders, educators and state officials on the mission to bolster trade between the state and the fast-growing region. In Shanghai on Thursday, he announced that the state and several Maryland companies secured deals with Chinese firms worth more than $45 million.
An official with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development said the private firms participating in the trip were selected because they have existing ventures in Asia or a serious interest in doing business there.
JX3 Energy mines and exports metallurgic coal to POSCO, which uses it to make steel.
Several groups recommended delegation members, said Signe Pringle, director of the Office of International Investment and Trade at DBED.
The delegation members from private firms, including Powers and Oberhaus, are paying their own expenses, officials and participants said.
The trip is expected to cost the state around $100,000, which covers travel costs for O'Malley, DBED Secretary Christian S. Johansson, Secretary of State John McDonough and other state officials, Abbruzzese said.
"We were mindful of the positive impact that the trade mission could have for the region, and we were very mindful of those costs and did what we could do to reduce the costs, like the delegation traveling coach," Abbruzzese said.
Officials at DBED said Friday that they did not know whether lobbyists had joined overseas trade missions in the past. Lobbyists contacted by The Sun said Powers' participation was at least unusual, but none was willing to comment on the record.
"My parents taught me that if I have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all," the ordinarily voluble Bruce Bereano said.
Susan Wichmann, the executive director of the government ethics watchdog Common Cause Maryland, said the inclusion of the lobbyist raised questions about how participants were selected and what qualifications she brought.
Wichmann wondered what expenses Powers would have to report under state ethics law, which requires lobbyists to report what they spend on, say, food or gifts that they purchase for government officials.
Wichmann said she wasn't surprised that Powers's firm touted her access to the governor.
"I don't think it's surprising they would send out a message to their clients," she said. "That's the business lobbying firms are in."