An Annapolis lobbyist who was convicted of fraud and disbarred for improper campaign contributions is raising money for a D.C. Council candidate who happens to have a cousin in the Maryland General Assembly.
Bruce C. Bereano mailed out letters Friday asking those in his thick Rolodex to donate money to the campaign of Vincent C. Gray, cousin of Maryland Del. James E. Proctor Jr. (D-Prince George's), an influential member of the House Appropriations Committee. Although Maryland law bars the lobbyist from raising money for state lawmakers, it "does not apply" to their out-of-state relatives, Bereano wrote to the prospective donors in the July 16 letter.
Bereano's appeal mentions nothing about Gray's background, philosophy or even party affiliation. But the lobbyist does note that he "is sure that Delegate Proctor would be very appreciative of any help or support you can give to his cousin Vince."
Gray, a college friend of Bereano's, is a Democrat running for the Ward 7 council seat against incumbent Kevin P. Chavous (D).
While the solicitation is legal, legislative watchdogs suggested yesterday that the strong emphasis on currying favor with Proctor runs afoul of the law's intent, which is to avoid scenarios where a lawmaker is beholden to a lobbyist.
The point of the prohibition on campaign fundraising, said James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, is to "make sure the lobbyist doesn't have a stack of chits that they can cash in later during the session."
Bereano said yesterday that he resents any suggestion that he is bending the rules. In fact, he said, he knows better than most what the law allows, and what it forbids. The invitation to donate to Gray, he said, is clearly permitted.
"That's not skating. That's not coming close," Bereano said. "It is doing what the law allows you to do. I'm not looking for a loophole. The law is the law."
Still, Browning and others said the letter is striking, given Bereano's past brushes with Maryland's ethics laws.
"Mr. Bereano has once again highlighted a loophole that needs to be closed," Browning said.
Ten years ago, Bereano was convicted of mail fraud after he billed his clients for entertaining legislators but channeled that money into campaign accounts. After serving 10 months of home detention, he quickly regained his status as a top-earning lobbyist -- and as something of a renegade in an Annapolis lobbying corps that has been subject to increasingly tighter ethics constraints over the past several years.
In 2000, for instance, he used a loophole in Maryland law to organize a Gulf of Mexico cruise for state lawmakers aboard a 68-foot schooner. He served them shrimp-salad croissant sandwiches, cold beer and Kendall Jackson wines -- and never saw the event appear on a Maryland ethics registry because it all took place out of state.
And he is the man who is waiting for a Howard County judge to rule on his challenge to a 10-month suspension of his lobbying license, a step the ethics commission took after discovering that he had arranged for a client agency to pay him a percentage of any new state business he brought it. Bereano has argued that the contract sidesteps a prohibition on such deals because it was signed before the law took effect.
"Bruce has just never been a cautious guy," said D. Bruce Poole, a former House majority leader and ethics commission member. "When it has come to lobbying activities, he has always done whatever he could to succeed for his side of the proposition. Look back. There have been times where he crossed the edge. Many more times, it's been the case where he hasn't crossed the edge, but he's been right up to it."
Bereano said the fact that Gray has a cousin in Maryland politics, while featured prominently in his pitch to Maryland donors, is entirely coincidental to his interest in helping Gray's campaign.
Gray is one of nine candidates running against Chavous, a 12-year incumbent, in the Sept. 14 primary. Gray is executive director of Covenant House, a community services center in Southeast Washington. He is also a longtime friend of Bereano's. The lobbyist said he was Gray's fraternity "big brother" in college, when Gray became the first black member in a George Washington University fraternity.
"This is a guy that I've known since 1962. The fact that he is related to Delegate Proctor is just coincidental," Bereano said. "I'd be out there hustling to raise money for him either way."
Money has been an issue for Gray's campaign: While Chavous had $72,255 in his account as of June 10, when a report was filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, Gray had just $1,325.
Staff writer Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.