The mailboxes of lobbyists in Annapolis are overflowing with invitations this year, asking them to buy tickets to political fund-raisers for members of the legislature.
If they don't give soon enough, they may get a follow-up call or be cornered right in the halls of the State House, where the General Assembly meets.
This is an election year and there is no embarrasssment here - on either side - about this practice. "A lobbyist expects to participate in a testimonial, as sort of a cost of doing business," said Senate President Steny H. Hoyer (D-Prince George's).
The lobbyists "are a ready source" of money, said Sen. John C. Coolahan (D-Baltimore County), a candidate for Baltimore County executive. "The average Joe Blow can't afford a $50 ticket, so you've got to hit the lobbyists."
Here, as elsewhere, "hitting" the lobbyists is a time-honored tradition. Candidates routinely consult the list of registered lobbyists before deciding whom to invite to their fund-raisers. Some spend tickets to every lobbyist registered with the secretary of state.
And here, as elsewhere, lobbyists collectively help underwrite hundreds of campaigns, contributing thousands of dollars to legislative races in Maryland and tens of thousands to statewide races.
Whether they represent oil, racing, insurance or nursing homes, the lobbyists have an enormous stake in the business of the legislature and the state government, an interest that most freely acknowledge motivates them to contribute.
"The only way you can reciprocate (for a lawmaker's help) is making a contribution," explained L. Malcolm Rodman, a nursing home lobbyist, who has bought tickets to seven testimonials in recents months. "Anybody who's been friendly to us we consider."
"You support those who support the industry," said Walter C. Thompson, a trucking lobbyist, who has received 10 fund-raising appeals since November. "A legislator has to raise money to be re-elected. I'm willing to help if he's been favorable to us."
In an election year session, lobbyists enjoy a strange reversal in roles. Many lobbyists who have trouble getting an audience with legislators in normal times suddenly find themselves deluged with pleas for fund-raising help just before an election.
"I know it's an election year because my mail regularly contains tickets to fund-raising event," said M. Albert Figinski, who lobbies for scrap iron interests and has attended about 30 testimonials in recent months.
As many as three tickets a week have come in the mail of some lobbyists in recent weeks, often followed by personal requests. One lobbyist said he has received "dunning calls" from aides to legislators "reminding me the delegate is having a testimonial and they would be most gratified if I attended."
Annapolis' super lobbyist, James J. Doyle Jr., whose numerous clients range from Pepco to racetracks, said at least two legislators stopped him last week in State House halls. "They say I'm going to get a notice to their fund-raiser or my secretary's going to get a call from their campaign manager," he said.
"If the guy's been decent to me, listens to my side of the story and gives me a fair shake on the issues," Doyle said, "I'm inclined to buy two, three or four tickets."
Doyle said he gets invited to every testimonial and expects his law firm to spend several thousand dollars on tickets in this election year.
Not all of Annapolis' lobbyists like to receive fund-raising pleas from legislators. W. Orville Wright, who lobbies for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., said he finds himself in "a terribly awkward position. I just can't buy tickets for all of them.
"There are many of these guys I personally like and like their oulook on legislation," Wright said. "I'm caught between my personal feelings and my corporate feelings. I have a job to do and I'm not going to do my job by buying a lot of tickets."
Lee Perlman, who lobbies for Common Cause, said he considers it "absolutely inexcusable" for lawmakers to try to sell tickets to lobbyists "who are going to have, to come to (the legislator), if he's in office and ask for things."
While acknowledging the importance of lobbyists as a rich source of campaign funds, most legislators who solicit or accept special interest money for their campaigns say that the contributions do not influence their votes on special interest bills.
Sen. Harry J. McGuirk, (D-Baltimore) whose Economic Affairs Committee reviews most special interest legislation, said the dozens of lobbyists who attended his $50-a-ticket testimonial last fall "aren't going to get anything extra from me because they bought a ticket."
Some other lawmakers see it differently. "When organized labor comes to me, I listen because they can support you with workers and contributions," said Sen. Victor L. Crawford (D-Montgomery County). "They expect access and you give it to them."
Because Maryland campaign financing laws limit individual contributions to $2,500 per election, lobbyists find it impossible to attend every fund raiser. In many cases, they accept tickets from political figures and ask their clients to buy them.
Lobbyist Wright said that while he does not promote testimonial sales within the telephone company, "many people (in the company) are interested in a candidate and will call me and ask me if I received any tickets. If I have, I say come down and get them."
A method practiced by Doyle, the Pepco lobbyist, is to assess each partner of his Baltimore law firm a prorate share of fund-raising expenses. The eight-member firm then has a fund-raising potential of $20,000, although Doyle said it spends "well under $10,000" in an election year.
Most lobbyists have a practical view of their fund-raising roles. Making a contribution is more a token of appreciation than an attempt to "buy" influence, according to Bill Holland, who lobbies for the Chamber of Commerce. "It show (legislators) some recognition, he said.
At the same time, some lobbyists derive their influence because of their political connections. An almost legendary figure, M. William (Sweets) Adelson, was the most powerful lobbyist in Annapolis while serving as chief fund raiser and unofficial adviser to former Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin.
More recently, Richard T. Rombro became one of the busiest and bestpaid lobbyists in Annapolis while his close friend and political ally, Marvin Mandel, was governor. Rombro represents home improvement contractors and collection and employment agencies among other clients.
Rombro said he buys tickets to most of the fund raisers staged in an election year. When asked why, he replied, "Because they (legislators) ask you. You develop friendships and relationships down there. If a guy asks you to buy a ticket, you buy it."