The age-old practice of lobbyists' wining and dining individual Maryland legislators was outlawed during the last legislative session as part of widespread ethics reforms meant to restore public trust.
But even as the ban on individual meals was being debated, legislative leaders including House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) and Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accepted free meals from lobbyists, according to reports filed this week with the state ethics commission in Towson.
At the time, there were no rules against lobbyists picking up the check for lawmakers.
"It is not surprising," said Kathleen Skullney, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, a supporter of the new restrictions. "The view of ethics [among some lawmakers], as with the view of campaign finance law, is that it is the letter of the law that applies and not the spirit or intent of the law."
Even though the new law bans lobbyists -- but not their employers -- from giving legislators free tickets to sporting and other events, four lawmakers accepted more than $5,500 worth of tickets from lobbyist Bruce Bereano to attend Capitals and Wizards games during and immediately after the legislative session.
Among the recipients was state Del. Tony E. Fulton (D-Baltimore), who is under federal investigation for his association with Gerard E. Evans, Maryland's top-grossing lobbyist a year ago. Authorities are investigating whether the two men worked with Evans's partner, John Stierhoff, to gin up legislation that would bring money and clients into Evans's law practice.
Bereano could not be reached for comment at his office yesterday, but he has said previously that he would continue to offer tickets to sporting events and entertain over meals until the ban took effect.
Yesterday's filing deadline for the disclosure reports marks the time each year when lobbyists, and the companies that hired them, must disclose how much money they have spent trying to sway legislators. A report released last month by the state ethics commission showed that nearly $23 million was spent on lobbying a year ago, the most in state history. A preliminary glance at reports filed yesterday showed there is still a lot of money to go around.
During the 12-month period ending Oct. 31, 1998, Evans and lobbyist Gary R. Alexander both received more than $1 million in compensation for representing dozens of clients before the legislature. Evans reported more than $600,000 in wages from clients during the six months after that. And Alexander billed more than $500,000 to his clients during the same period, according to the new disclosure reports.
The men were also among several lobbyists who sponsored legislative parties on their clients' behalf -- a practice that remains legal. Alexander, for instance, reported spending $32,159 on behalf of MedStar Health of Washington. And John A. Pica Jr., a lobbyist for Orioles owner Peter Angelos, gave 20 tickets and meals on April 5, which together were worth $50 each, to 20 legislators including Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery), Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's) and Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's).
In recent years, as a result of changes in ethics reporting guidelines, lobbyists have spent less on wining and dining of individual lawmakers and more on events to which all lawmakers -- or at least full committees or county delegations -- are invited.
That's because under the ethics law now being phased out, meals for individual lawmakers costing more than $25 had to be disclosed. Individual lawmakers did not have to disclose what they received from events for committees and other groups of legislators.
During the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 1998, $504,818 was spent on special events. In the Washington area, the Montgomery County delegation received the most invitations -- six -- and its members were treated to $9,240 worth of food and drink. Members of the Prince George's delegation received five invitations valued at $2,750.