Some of the state's top lobbyists have criminal records involving public corruption. Bruce C. Bereano remains influential despite a 1994 conviction for mail fraud. Gerard E. Evans, who was convicted in June 2000 of defrauding clients and spent 21/2 years in prison, was the third-most-highly-paid lobbyist in Annapolis last year.

Evans' case famously caused a federal judge to decry the "culture of corruption" in Maryland's capital.

Gaines, of the University of Illinois, noted that elected officials tend to be particularly sympathetic to colleagues in cases that involve a "complicated financial scandal" that will be difficult for people to quickly grasp. He noted that "the lack of competitive districts" minimizes concerns that politicians facing tough races would have.

On the stand in federal court last week, none was more supportive than Brown. The lieutenant governor called Currie "a man of strong integrity and conviction and beliefs."

The two have a long history. Brown, who like Currie is from Prince George's County, managed Currie's 1994 state Senate campaign. Four years later, Brown ran for the House of Delegates — and won — as a member of Currie's ticket. They stayed close, Brown testified, noting that Currie was invited to the christening of Brown's daughter.

Brown, through a spokesman, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Looking ahead to a possible future race for governor, Patrick Gonzales, a Maryland pollster, predicted that Maryland voters would not punish Brown, no matter what happens in Currie's trial. "I don't think human beings are going to hold it against someone for sticking up for a friend," Gonzales said.

"If Anthony Brown does not become governor in 2014, it is not going to be because he testified for Currie," Gonzales said. "If an opponent is going to spend a lot of energy and time and resources because [Brown] went on the stand and testified on behalf of his friend, that opponent is wasting his time and energy."

Also, Gonzales noted, the election is two years away. "This would have faded into the recesses," he said.

He said the same goes for Cummings, who represents Baltimore, Baltimore County and Howard County. Under oath, Cummings called Currie a "straight-shooter" and "an honest guy" and "a person I expect to tell the truth." Cummings served in the General Assembly with Currie before being elected to Congress.

Part of the reason politicians feel comfortable testifying, says James Browning of the political watchdog group Common Cause, is that with rare exception, Democrats for decades have been the ruling party in Annapolis. That reduces the potency of criticism from Republicans, he said.

"The Democrats have been in charge for so long and the Republicans are so weak," said Browning, a regional director for Common Cause. "There is an overconfidence on the part of the Democrats and an underconfidence on the part of Republicans who think that they aren't going to help themselves by talking about ethics."

In Maryland, Democrats control 98 of 141 seats in the House of Delegates and 35 of 47 seats in the state Senate. Last year, in one of the best years for Republicans nationally, Gov. Martin O'Malley coasted to re-election, beating Ehrlich by a 14-point margin. Ehrlich's single term as governor from 2003 to 2007 was the first Republican win for that office in a generation.

In coming to Currie's defense, Ehrlich was circumspect. He testified that Currie was "very honest," but made clear that when he was governor, it was his staff who dealt with legislators such as Currie on a day-to-day basis.

After testifying, Ehrlich seemed relieved to be finished.

"First time I ever did this," Ehrlich told reporters. "Hopefully the last. … It is nothing that you look forward to."

Asked whether testifying might pose a risk for politicians who will face Maryland voters, Ehrlich said: "Little causes political risk for Democrats in the state of Maryland."

There appears to be another reason that politicians are willing to take a risk, however minor, to support Currie: He's genuinely well regarded in the State House.

Frosh, in an interview after testifying, said that while Currie made "some mistakes," he believes the 74-year-old senator, who suffers from prostate cancer, should not go to jail.

D. Bruce Poole, a former state delegate who served on the General Assembly's ethics committee, said it is notable that officials from various political factions are standing up for Currie. In other scandals, "the usual good ol' boys" protect the accused, he said, but support is not always widespread.

"If [Currie] was known as a guy who was quick to cut a deal and be on the edge, people would say, 'Hey, it caught up with him,'" Poole said. "Instead they are saying, 'Damn it, he did so many good things, what a way to end up.'"

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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