One thing that happened in Vegas last week certainly won't stay in Vegas: The lobbyists Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone were married there before about 100 well-wishers, who included some of Maryland's top government officials — including the wedding officiant, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Malone, a one-time top aide to Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Jones, perennially among the state's highest-earning lobbyists, joined professional forces five years ago and on Tuesday were married in Las Vegas by Rawlings-Blake. The mayor was attending an annual retail convention there.
"When we got engaged, we said, 'Let's do it in Vegas.' A lot of our friends were going to be out there anyway," Jones said Friday of scheduling her wedding to coincide with an annual convention attended by public officials and the retailers they would like to lure to their locales.
Indeed, among the officials who attended both the Jones-Malone nuptials and the Global Retail Real Estate Convention sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers were Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, multiple state legislators and a host of State House and City Hall staff members.
While the public officials were in Las Vegas on the taxpayers' dime, several said they considered the time they spent at the wedding, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, part of the off-hours that occur during any business trip.
"When anyone travels on business, and that is the main purpose of the trip, there's no belief that at some point during the trip that you don't have free time," Rawlings-Blake said. "Every convention that I've been on, there's been conference time, as well as down time. I think this down time was a little higher-profile than others, but you know, people can use their down time without it being a misappropriation of taxpayer funds."
The newlyweds' firm, Harris Jones & Malone, is among the busiest lobbying groups in Baltimore and Annapolis, with clients that include unions, gambling companies, contractors, Baltimore Gas & Electric, marriage equality groups, Wal-Mart and other companies.
Malone said Gov. Martin O'Malley and his wife District Court Judge Katie Curran O'Malley "of course" were invited but declined due to, respectively, a Democratic Governors Association event and a full docket.
That the guest list for lobbyists' wedding would include many of the public officials that they regularly seek to influence is an outgrowth of the "chumminess" that develops in government hallways, political observers said.
"It's a kind of clan," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist professor emeritus. "They get together and talk shop and trade rumors."
"Lobbyists, when the legislature is in session, take them out to dinner and lunch all the time," he added.
Among those attending the wedding, according to the Afro newspaper, which first reported on the nuptials on Wednesday, were Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Sens. Catherine Pugh and Joan Carter Conway, Del. Dereck Davis and the acting deputy secretary of transportation, Leif Dormsjo.
"This just shows how close the relationship is between lobbyists and government officials," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Sloan said that can pose a problem if lobbyists ultimately have an undue influence on how, for example, legislation is crafted. But, she added, "it doesn't seem like anyone was wasting taxpayer dollars" if the officials were already in Las Vegas for the convention.
Brown said he attended the wedding after a couple of days of meetings and before heading to the airport Tuesday evening to return to Maryland. Brown said he has known both Jones and Malone, an aide to O'Malley since his days as a councilman then mayor, for years.
"I think that friendships are not mutually exclusive from your professional pursuits," said Brown, who recently announced his campaign to succeed the term-limited O'Malley. "You see that in so many different professions."
Brown said he didn't see a problem with mixing a little bit of pleasure with the business he was conducting in Las Vegas.
"It's no different than when county officials go to Ocean City for [the Maryland Association of Counties conference], and go to the beach in the afternoon between the conference meetings and seminars."
It is a second marriage for both Malone and Jones, who live in Ruxton, and they have three sons between them. Jones was formerly married to Pless Jones of P&J Contracting, which does much demolition work for the city.
Their lobby firm has close ties to city and state officials. Associate Caitlin McDonough, for example, is Senate President Miller's former legislative director.
Malone and Jones said that despite their marriage, Jones, as the founder of the lobbying firm, would remain the majority partner.
"I tried to negotiate" a bigger share, Malone, 46, said with a laugh.
No can do, Jones, 45, said. "It's just a separation of church and state."
Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.
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