The prayer breakfast was coming to an end and the small group of legislators rose, filling the private dining room in the 200-year-old Maryland Inn, to thank the Lord for the good that had come their way.

As everyone clasped hands and bowed their heads, Bruce C. Bereano stood among them, one of the few lobbyists ever to attend. As he stood gripping the hand of a state senator on either side of him, Bereano certainly had reason to be thankful for what has come his way of late.

Five years ago Bereano was a $34,000-a-year aide to the senate president, weighed 165 pounds, called himself a "Kennedy liberal" and pushed his boss' progressive, consumer-oriented ideology.

Today, at 38, he is a lobbyist for hire, trading on connections in the legislature to kill bills, often so-called "consumer" legislation, for cigarette manufacturers, vendors, pawnbrokers and race tracks. He said he made $400,000 last year ($112,215 in lobbying for two dozen clients), paid $270,000 for a waterfront home, spent $4,000 to feed legislators on behalf of his clients, and gained 40 pounds.

Bereano is a case study of a breed of lobbyist who, through hustling, currying favor and using insider connections can have a major effect on molding state laws.

The men (mostly) and women who each morning arrive to pace the black-and-white checked marble floor between the House of Delegates and Senate chambers come in all shapes, sizes and prices: a white-haired, carefully coiffed banking lobbyist, a disheveled Baltimore lawyer always with an armful of papers, an ex-legislator known for bad jokes and a diamond tiepin.

They appear with dozens of others, representing hundreds of interests affected by Maryland, to practice the art of persuasion.

A few work for local governments, making the case of Montgomery County or Baltimore City before legislative committees. Others, such as Cheryl Lynch of the Associated Catholic Charities and Steve Rivelis of Planned Parenthood, are ideological, crusading for causes on a shoe-string budget.

Most are mercenary lobbyists--lawyers, former legislators and others who are available to the highest bidder, commanding as much as $30,000 for their efforts to kill or pass one bill.

Bruce Bereano is one of the mercenaries.

Before the General Assembly convened in January, he had been guaranteed about $130,000 for the 90-day session, not including expenses such as dinners with legislators on behalf of clients. That comes to more than $1,400 a day before the work began.

Bereano says he is still a Kennedy liberal--he lobbies without cost for Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women--but that everyone deserves representation. Others don't see it quite that way. Said one colleague of his working relationships: "You can't be a Kennedy liberal and sleep with the people he sleeps with."

The essence of lobbying is to convince legislators not only that you are right but that you are their friend. This way they are more inclined to want to see things your way--or more important, your client's way.

Legislators know Bereano makes more money than they do but he calls them all by their formal title of Delegate, Senator or Chairman. Those he knows well, from his years as an aide to Senate Presidents William James, who is now the state treasurer, and Steny Hoyer, now a U.S. congressman, he frequently addresses as "my senator" or "my delegate."

Some have called Bereano "obsequious" or "fawning," but his approach is effective.

"He's very respectful of legislators. It's all 'yes, sir, no sir, can I help you, Mr. Chairman?' Legislators aren't averse to being handled that way," said Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Prince George's). Miller, a political friend, recalls the days when Bereano was following Hoyer "around like a puppy dog."

Currying favor also means purchasing tickets to legislators' fund-raisers, which Bereano does up to the $2,500 per year and per election limit imposed by state law, spreading the wealth.

Bereano also makes sure his clients buy tickets or make contributions to senators and delegates, especially those on committees that could affect his clients' measures. Along with such a contribution, Bereano will send a cover letter explaining that the check is coming from a client at his recommendation. One delegate recalls getting a check from a political action committee with a cover letter that read, "at the suggestion of Bruce Bereano we are sending this . . . "

This session, the first of a four-year term, brought about 50 new legislators to Annapolis. Last November, even before the legislature opened, Bereano began preparing for a new-legislator-of-the-day encounter, an effort to have breakfast, lunch or dinner with as many of them as possible. So far, Bereano has dined with at least half of them.

He spends no time at the Hilton bar or Fran O'Brien's, the most popular legislative watering hole, where other lobbyists run up huge bills buying drinks for legislators, reporters or anyone who seems interested. And while he represents both the Tobacco Institute and the Wine Institute, Bereano neither drinks nor smokes.

As a former legislative aide, Bereano knows that staff members can be as important as legislators--secretaries know where their bosses are, committee employes know when bills are to be voted on. Bereano makes sure all are taken care of.

Every Feb. 14, he sends each committee--even Rules, before which he has never appeared--a bouquet of flowers, with a card, "Happy Valentine's Day, From Your Sweetheart, Bruce." He also takes the staff members out to dinner or pays for them to go out with each other and "enjoy their own company."

Other lobbyists make similar efforts toward staffers, but none with as much calculated efficiency. As one longtime lobbyist put it, "He's always throwing a party for someone, or sending a message saying congratulations on your appointment to . . . the high blood pressure commission, or congratulations on your wife's seventh month of pregnancy. Who could keep up with that? Who would want to?"

Bereano's greatest asset as a lobbyist may be the political connections he made as the top aide to Senate President Hoyer from 1973 to 1978. Bereano drafted legislation, carried Hoyer's orders to committee staff and chairmen, conveyed messages to Hoyer, especially from his home county of Prince George's, and negotiated, on behalf of his boss, with the House and its leaders. All of which left Bereano in good shape when Hoyer lost a bid to become lieutenant governor five years ago.

"When Steny was running for office, Bruce would testify for him and lobby for him. And when Steny wasn't there any more after he lost , Bruce kept on lobbying, but this time for clients," said Miller. "He took off one hat and put on another and went from $30,000 a year to $90,000 a session."

During his years as a legislative employe he also became friends with those who today are in power--Senate President Melvin A. Steinberg, Sen. Laurence Levitan, who is chairman of a committee considering the cigarette tax that Bereano is working to kill, and Miller.

Bereano actively helped Steinberg beat Sen. James Clark for the Senate presidency. Steinberg now decides bill assignments and recently helped kill an anti-smoking bill that Bereano opposed.

Miller's committee is hearing two Bereano-backed measures, including one that he introduced at Bereano's request, to prohibit restrictions on waterbeds in apartments.

"No other lobbyist would I have put that in for," said Miller. "I don't even have any apartments in my district." He half-jokingly added that it "may be the worst bill to pass out of my committee."

Not all legislators approve of Bereano's role.

"I think it's totally unacceptable. A lobbyist should not be involved in the internal politics of the State Senate," said Sen. James Simpson (D-St. Mary's), who took the floor of the Senate to denounce Bereano's involvement in the Senate presidency race. Others, equally upset, sarcastically suggested that with Steinberg as president, Bereano's portrait might adorn the Senate chambers, alongside notable Marylanders of old.

Bereano insists that "anything that is a conflict or even the suggestion or the appearance of conflict I don't do."

He says he is troubled by the appearance of his recent representation as the defense attorney of Sen. Tommie Broadwater Jr. (D-Prince George's), who has been charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to traffic illegally in food stamps. Broadwater sits on the committee that will vote on Gov. Harry Hughes' proposal to increase cigarette taxes, which Bereano is fighting, but Bereano said "those taxes were dead long before Tommie called me."

In the parlance of the news business, Bereano is, he admits, a press hound.

"Your clients like to read about you," he said. "The Baltimore Magazine article on him was really effective with many of my clients." Bereano clipped the article, which spoke of his tirelessness, effectiveness and connections, reproduced it and distributed it widely.

"Bruce is . . . hungry for ink," said a fellow lobbyist. "I don't think I could have the patience to be that organized about it."

Bereano has an uncanny ability to position himself in the middle of a newsworthy area. For years the rule among most lobbyists has been that the client and the issue--not the lobbyist--should be out front.

Bereano regularly takes the opposite tack: He jumped aboard the successful effort--in the courts and through news coverage--to extract former Gov. Marvin Mandel from federal prison, and now as Broadwater's lawyer, he has been pictured on front pages and television screens across the state.

Another lobbyist said that Jim Doyle, the longest-tenured and most highly paid lobbyist in Annapolis, "comes to an event, stays for a little while and then leaves quietly. Bereano's preference would be to stand behind the guy at a press conference or show up with a brass band or something to reflect light on him."

Over the past three years, the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons has paid Bereano $60,000 to oppose legislation that would permit optometrists to dispense eye drops.

Despite that big fee, Bereano, who has 23 lobbying clients and an active law practice, had not paid much attention to the eye drop bill until he heard last Monday that the House Environmental Matters Committee, lobbied by a former House speaker on behalf of the optometrists, might be ready to pass the bill by a one- or two-vote margin.

Bereano swung into action.

He dusted off a tally sheet he maintains of past votes in the 24-member committee, checking off those who had been favorable to his client. Seven or eight appeared to be sure supporters, meaning five more were needed to kill the measure.

Among 12 that he listed as undecided were several new legislators, who probably had not given the matter much thought. He took several of them out to lunch or breakfast during the week.

He enlisted his influential friends, including committee chairman Larry Young and Sen. Miller. At Bereano's request, Miller, the political leader of the 27th District, telephoned committee vice chairman William MacCaffrey, a swing vote on the issue, and got MacCaffrey to agree to vote to kill the measure.

By Thursday, the count had changed to a one-vote margin against the bill. The optometrist forces, fearful of a loss, delayed the vote until Saturday, but Bereano was now confident. Saturday morning, the committee voted 12 to 10 to kill the bill, and for good measure, also rejected a bill, which Bereano had lobbied against, that would have prohibited smoking in public places.

"It was a very nice morning," Bereano said.