The lobbyist for a Maryland automobile distributor who sent imported clocks as Christmas gifts to many of the state's 188 legislators has written to the members of the General Assembly acknowledging that the incident was a "blunder" and offering to collect the clocks from legislators who wish to return them.
James J. Doyle Jr., the lobbyist for Frederick Weisman, president of Mid-Atlantic Toyota Distributors Inc., said today he was unaware that a company employe had sent the unsolicited gifts to more than 100 legislators shortly before Christmas until it was reported in the press.
"Nobody ever thought to ask me my reaction," said Doyle, "and if they had, the damned things never would have gone out."
Doyle sent letters late last week to all members of the General Assembly informing them that the clocks had been sent by a Mid-Atlantic Toyota employe who was unfamiliar with Maryland ethics law. Enclosed in the letter was a postcard that legislators can use to ask the company to come get their clocks, which are valued at about $75.
Doyle has been retained by Weisman to lobby for a change in the state's franchise protection law that would give auto distributors the same safeguards against abrupt cancellation of their contracts afforded other franchise operations.
In effect, the change would require Toyota to buy Weisman out if it opts not to renew his five-year distribution contract in two years.
Mid-Atlantic Toyota serves as the distributor for five states and the District of Columbia, and it annually handles about 70,000 cars through its facilities at the port of Baltimore and in Glen Burnie.
Doyle said the decision to send the Japanese-made clocks to legislators was made by a Mid-Atlantic Toyota employe who used a company mailing list that was expanded last year to include members of the General Assembly.
In addition to legislators, some local officials also received the clocks.
"He did this without thought that there might be a legal prohibition against it," Doyle said.
Maryland's public ethics law requires legislators who receive gifts of "significant value" from anyone with an interest in proposed legislation to report the gifts on their annual disclosure reports.