Former Aides to Miller Now Lobby Him
Sunday, April 20, 2008
In Annapolis, it can pay to have worked for Mike Miller.
No fewer than five members of the capital lobbying corps are former aides to the long-serving Senate president, including two perennial top earners and another who just successfully pushed for the repeal of Maryland's computer services tax.
The governor's top lobbyist in the legislature also once worked for Miller, as did the chief lobbyist for Montgomery County. So, too, did two other members of the General Assembly and one of the state's top health-care officials.
His alumni club is testament to both the tutelage and longevity of Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). But it is also a reflection of how Annapolis works.
In Maryland's capital, a noticeable number of senior legislative staff members parlay their work behind the scenes into higher-paying positions of influence. And Miller readily acknowledges that in the heat of a legislative battle, those ties can provide an advantage to his former aides and the clients they are paid to represent.
"They're my close personal friends," Miller, who has presided over the Senate for more than two decades, said in an interview. "They've never stopped working for me, and I've never stopped helping them. It means they have access to me always. They know not to abuse that friendship. They know there's a line they can't cross. But I've never turned any of them away."
Having access to Miller hardly guarantees passage of a bill. But lawmakers and lobbyists interviewed for this story suggest that relationships with legislative leaders can make a difference, particularly on lower-profile legislation that is of primary importance to a particular client.
For example, one high-ranking senator said a bill that extended a deadline for companies to comply with Maryland's upcoming ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergents passed in the recent session in large part because Procter & Gamble hired a former chief of staff of Miller's as a lobbyist. The bill's sponsor said that had nothing to do with its passage.
Sean Dobson, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said public-interest groups such as his can be at a disadvantage compared with business interests trying to make their presence felt in Annapolis.
"There are a number of ways to try to influence top lawmakers," Dobson said. "Unfortunately, two of them -- campaign contributions and hiring a lawmaker's friends as your lobbyist -- both cost a lot of money."
The phenomenon is not unique to Miller or Annapolis.
On Capitol Hill, it is common for legislative staffers to take higher-paying jobs as lobbyists after toiling for years at government wages.