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Democrats Reap Donations Tied to Malpractice Fight

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2004; Page PG09

With the debate over medical malpractice coming to a head in the General Assembly, a study released this week showed how much money interest groups involved in the fight have pumped into campaigns in recent years -- with the vast majority going to Democrats.

The political action committee of the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association has given $284,350 to candidates in Maryland since 1999, according to a study by Common Cause Maryland. Ninety-seven percent of that money went to Democrats, who have helped trial lawyers resist legislative efforts to curb payouts in malpractice cases.

Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) is the biggest beneficiary of trial lawyers' PAC money since 1999, according to a study by Common Cause Maryland. (Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)

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During the same period, PACs tied to a half-dozen medical and insurance groups have given $341,055 to Maryland candidates. About 69 percent of that money went to Democrats. Republicans are generally friendlier to the interests of doctors and insurers, but Democrats hold large majorities in the House of Delegates and Senate.

The study found that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was the biggest beneficiary of the trial lawyers' PAC money, with political committees under his control receiving $11,500 during the period. Miller's take was followed by those of Sen. JamesBrochin (D-Baltimore County), with $8,000; Sen. Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery), $6,500; Sen. Leo E. Green (D-Prince George's), $6,450; and Sen. Sharon M. Grosfeld (D-Montgomery), $6,000.

The recipient of the largest amount of medical and insurance PAC money, according to the study, was Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Baltimore County), one of two doctors in the General Assembly, who received $24,900. Harris was followed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), with $18,750; Miller, $13,750; House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), $9,400; and Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), $7,400.

The study also showed a marked upswing in lobbying expenditures by groups representing trial lawyers, doctors and insurers. The Maryland State Medical Society's PAC, for example, had spent $627,354 this year through April, surpassing its total for all of 2003 by more than $250,000.

Ex-Senators Aid Talks

Ehrlich publicly praised former state senators Robert R. Neall (D-Anne Arundel) and Francis X. Kelly (D-Baltimore County) for helping last week with closed-door negotiations over medical malpractice.

Neall, a former Republican, is a budget and health care expert. Kelly is an insurance broker. Both were among a parade of emissaries sent by Ehrlich to see Busch on the same day. Neither returned phone calls seeking comment about their roles.

Among the others popping in to see the speaker last week was Martin L. Doordan, president and chief executive officer of Anne Arundel Health System.

Doordan said he was trying to encourage all three leaders -- Ehrlich, Busch and Miller -- to reach a compromise on meaningful medical malpractice legislation.

A Gag Gift for Busch

The holiday gift arrived for Busch at the back door of the State House. The speaker picked up the package, which was a little larger than a shoe box, and shook it gently. The card said it was from state Republican Party Chairman John Kane. The two men have been at odds over slot machine gambling legislation for almost two years, so naturally Busch was suspicious.

With help from a State House security guard, Busch ran the package through the X-ray scanner and stared at the video screen for clues. "I don't know," he said with a shrug, before taking it into an office and unwrapping it. His suspicions confirmed, he laughed loudly and called over a group of reporters to look. Kane's gift: a Brookstone video gambling game. "Just what you'd expect," Busch said with a chuckle.

Journalists Still Banned

Ehrlich's ban on contact with two journalists from the Sun continued after a meeting last week with the Baltimore paper's publisher and top editors.

Both Ehrlich and Sun Editor Timothy A. Franklin had positive things to say about their closed-door meeting in Annapolis late Friday afternoon.

But Ehrlich made it clear almost immediately afterward that he and his administration are still not talking to State House Bureau Chief David Nitkin and longtime columnist Michael Olesker, whom the governor has accused of being unfair.

Shortly after the meeting, Nitkin approached the governor to ask about progress in negotiations over a special session on malpractice. Ehrlich turned and walked away without acknowledging his presence.

Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company