500 new laws take effect in Md. tomorrow Lobbyists are barred from fund raising

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A hint of October arrived in Western Maryland this summer by act of the General Assembly.

Because a new law banning lobbyists from political fund raising goes into effect tomorrow, a number of Maryland legislators have urged the usually accommodating representatives of business and industry to offer their assistance early.

Among the legislators is Delegate Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, who usually holds an Oktoberfest to raise money, got his tickets out this year before the leaves had barely turned green, let alone the hues of autumn.

Another legislator, apparently learning of the Assembly's action a bit late, hurriedly called a lobbyist to say, according to the lobbyist, "I didn't have time to print up any tickets, but I'm having a little breakfast to raise some bucks, and I wondered if you could help me out."

In Montgomery County, Democrat Delegate Dana Lee Dembrow, one of the more visible advocates of removing lobbyists from the process, has sent a letter to lobbyists advising them they have until tomorrow to help him raise money under the old, more liberal rules.

Mr. Dembrow said he was not taking advantage of the quickly closing cashier's window.

"The rules needed to be changed . . . . It's a healthy change," he said. For now, though, he said, "Everyone plays under the same rules." Mr. Dembrow said he has never been a major fund-raiser with the kind of connections that make the money flow.

He said his letter was a way of informing lobbyists and others that the fund-raising rules in Maryland have changed. His fund-raising letter was "educational," he said.

"That's not the way I read it," said Bruce C. Bereano, the highest paid lobbyist in Maryland, the state's most indefatigable political fund-raiser and one of the lobbyists at whom the legislation was directed.

One more trip to the well, in other words, before the well as we know it goes dry.

"It's about what I expected," Mr. Bereano said of the last-minute rush. "It's fine. They're trying to get in under the wire. They are."

Since the General Assembly session ended in early April, Mr. Bereano has attended or supported at least 40 fund-raisers. He points out that the presiding officers of both houses now prohibit fund raising during the session -- a policy that resulted in more summertime fund raising even before the new laws were passed.

"I would just hope," said one sponsor of the legislation, Delegate Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, "that members of the General Assembly who voted for a bill that limits the involvement of lobbyists in fund raising would abide by the spirit of the bill even before July 1."

However restrictive these changes will be in practice, legislators and lobbyists may find their fund-raising concerns eased a bit by the knowledge that another change in the contribution law allows individuals in Maryland to contribute $10,000 during a four-year election cycle -- up from $5,000. Contributions to a single candidate rise to $4,000, from $2,000.

Political action committees, which had operated without limits, are limited now to $6,000 per candidate -- with no limit to the amount they may contribute to all candidates combined.

Common Cause Maryland, which campaigned strenuously for these changes, believes the new limits will make individual givers more equal, according to Deborah Povich, the as

sistant director.

"We are hopeful that the individual contributions will increase rather than large contributions from special interests," she said.

She also welcomes the restrictions on lobbyists.

Until now, under widely accepted rules of the fund-raising game in Maryland, lobbyists have received tickets in the mail from legislators who are planning to raise money. Under state ethics law, the names of lobbyists and the companies they lobby for are printed in a disclosure list. Though originally designed as a way of disclosing which interest was hiring which advocate, the list has become a fund-raising tool.

Ms. Povich said even Common Cause gets solicited apparently by those legislators who ask everyone on the list for help.

Freewheeling fund raising had become a matter of concern to legislators who feared voters were disturbed by the close connection between fund raising and a legislator's good judgment. The so-called Keating Five case, in which five U.S. senators were accused of trading legislative favors for millions in campaign contributions was, perhaps, the most influential case.

The lobbyists who play the political fund-raising game in Maryland -- and not all do -- act as brokers as well as individual buyers. They hustle the tickets to their clients. For those who wish to play at the highest levels, tickets are sold by the table -- 10 seats at whatever the price. Prices range from the unusually modest $10 charged by Delegate Kelly to the $250 charged by candidates for statewide office.

Lobbyists who do not play, and even a few who do, welcomed the new legislation, suggesting that it would reduce pressure on them from legislators. The new law forbids lobbyists from "soliciting" or "transmitting" campaign contributions. The aim was to minimize the possibility of private meetings in which a lobbyist and a legislator discuss legislation of importance to a lobbyist's client and then turn to the lawmaker's fund-raising needs.

"The lobbyist is less important in the fund-raising process now. He is not the link anymore," says Delegate Perkins, chairwoman of the Committee on Constitutional and Administrative Law, which has shaped the more restrictive legislation over the last four years.

Mr. Bereano says he has been busy in recent days "complying with the laws." He spent a week terminating his involvement in six or seven political action committees for which he was either the chairman or treasurer. He even closed out something called "Bereano PAC," a committee he formed last year to get his name on even more contributions.

The whole process, he insists, made him "sad."

"I will comply, but it was sad because I think it's a restriction on the democratic process," he said, adding that he has been explaining to his clients that he can't initiate conversations with them about contributions.

"It doesn't make any sense to them," he said. "They say it's really form over substance because rather than my calling them and making a suggestion they call me." That, according to the law, is still permitted. A client may ask a lobbyist which legislators have been helpful. But the lobbyists may not then deliver the checks.

Just how restrictive the new laws will turn out to be remains to be seen. State officials say they believe the legislators wanted strict enforcement. But predictions are already in the political winds that the lobbyist list will be printed so that the addresses of the lobbyists' corporate clients are easier to find and use on the candidate mailing lists.

Mr. Bereano, for his part, has begun to research the legal meaning of "solicit" and other key words in the new law. Some 30 or 40 lobbyists met recently at a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Baltimore to ponder these rather metaphysical matters.

"You can't just go to the letter and spirit," Mr. Bereano said, referring to the strict interpretations he is getting from John O'Donnell, director of the state Ethics Commission who is charged with interpreting the law.

"With all due respect," Mr. Bereano said, "his interpretations are not what the law requires. He is interpreting it to mean that we can't talk to our clients. That is garbage, not to mention unconstitutional."

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