Each January, when Maryland legislators gather in Annapolis to kick off the annual legislative session, they are welcomed by special-interest groups and their lobbyists eager to wine and dine them in the hope of winning a little goodwill.

Typically, the first week or two are devoted to large receptions to which all members of the General Assembly are invited. These events can cost the sponsors tens of thousands of dollars as they set out lavish spreads and provide open bars for their legislative guests. It's all perfectly legal as long as the invitations are publicly disclosed.

So who's rolling out the red carpetfor the General Assembly this year?

On opening day, Wednesday, lawmakers will have their choice of receptions put on by the lobbying firm Alexander & Cleaver, the Maryland State Education Association (teachers union) and three of the associations that make up the state liquor lobby. The last of those -- put on by the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association and the Licensed Beverage Distributors of Maryland at the Governor Calvert House -- is always popular for both its proximity and lubricity.

The following Tuesday, it will be the Maryland Optometric Association and Maryland Public Health Association teaming up to entertain lawmakers at the House office building. Legislators who want to get away from the "campus" can choose an alternate shindig to be put on by the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association at the Loews Annapolis Hotel.

The next Thursday it's the Transportation Association of Maryland providing sustenance at the Governor Calvert House, just a few steps away from another to-do being put on by the Daily Record and the persistent folks at Alexander & Cleaver at Harry Browne's Restaurant on State Circle.

The next week will bring all-legislator events put on by the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the Baltimore Port Alliance and the law and lobbying firm of Funk & Bolton.

After the first flurry of big receptions, the Annapolis entertainment calendar usually shifts to the entertainment of specific committees. That's when the members start getting taken out to the best restaurants for actual sit-down dinners rather than buffet table fare.

In any case, Marylanders can rest assured their elected representatives will not starve. Comforting, isn't it?