Md. Lobbyists Find Ways To Give to Legislators

Limits Don't Stanch Flow of Contributions

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2008; Page A01

After years of scandals exposing the unsavory side of Annapolis, Maryland lawmakers sought during several rounds of reforms to limit the role lobbyists play in raising campaign cash.

But lobbyists are still finding ways to help fill campaign coffers for the legislators they seek to influence.

Last year, for instance, one lobbyist gave personal campaign contributions to nearly one-quarter of General Assembly members, whose next elections were still three years off.

Even more legislators -- about 40 percent -- received a donation from a political action committee operated by a prominent law firm with lobbyists working the State House corridors.

And an untold number of lawmakers received copies of client lists from lobbyists that include contacts to call to seek campaign contributions -- a practice the State Ethics Commission has advised is legal under existing law.

"It remains something of a two-way street," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who served on a commission whose recommendations led to the round of reforms in 2001. "We go to them and ask for money, and they come to us and ask for votes."

In 1991, Maryland banned lobbyists from "soliciting" donations for candidates for statewide and legislative offices. In 1997, lawmakers prohibited lobbyists from setting up PACs to distribute money to lawmakers. And in 2001, at the urging of the commission, lobbyists were no longer allowed to forward tickets to lawmakers' fundraisers to their clients.

But lobbyists can still donate their own money to lawmakers whose votes they seek to influence -- a practice common last year among the top earners in Annapolis. In addition to the lobbyists themselves, several of the law firms with which they are affiliated made corporate or PAC contributions to legislators, statewide officials and party committees.

A PAC affiliated with the Baltimore law firm of Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander gave more than $25,000 to lawmakers, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and others last year. Two other firms made $10,000 contributions to a Democratic Party committee.

Although lobbyists are not allowed to ask their clients to give money to legislators, one leading firm, Schwartz, Metz & Wise, lists upcoming fundraisers on its Web site as "an informational service."

Joseph A. Schwartz III, a lobbyist so well established in Annapolis that a sandwich bears his name at an upscale restaurant near the State House, said the list does not amount to "solicitation" because his firm posts information on every fundraiser that comes to its attention. "We're not directing anything," said Schwartz, whose clients include medical interests and pharmaceutical companies.

Joel D. Rozner, a lobbyist whose clients include power companies and health-care interests, said the donations he made last year to 44 legislators, according to State Board of Elections records, had no bearing on his work in Annapolis.

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