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Lobby plan is revised by regent; Billingsley says he won't take jobs from paying clients; 'Some misperception'; University chairman expresses surprise at ethical questions


Less than a day after his plan to launch a lobbying career became public, University System of Maryland's Board of Regents Chairman Lance W. Billingsley bowed to critics yesterday and abruptly altered his plans.

As long as he remains chairman of the regents, Billingsley said, he will accept only nonpaying cases. "It was obvious to me that lobbying might cause some misperception that could cause damage to the efforts of the university system," he said. "I don't want to take that risk."

One of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's closest friends and political advisers, Billingsley said he had not spoken to the governor about his plan to lobby executive branch agencies and the General Assembly.

Glendening was unavailable yesterday to comment. His press secretary, Ray Feldmann, said Glendening is "comfortable" with Billingsley's revised decision to take no lobbying fees while he remains on the Regents Board.

"If he does any lobbying for anyone other than the Board of Regents," Feldmann said, "it will be for nonpaying clients. The governor is comfortable with that arrangement. He's confident Lance will do what is right."

Billingsley, a 58-year-old Prince George's County lawyer, said he does not plan to leave his volunteer post until the end of his five-year term in about a year. As chairman of the regents, he presides over policy-making for the University of Maryland, College Park, 10 other campuses and two research institutes. The system's budget is $2.2 billion.

"I don't like to leave something before it's complete," he said. "I plan to see it through."

Billingsley said he had not anticipated the reaction that greeted yesterday's report in The Sun of his attempt to serve as regents chairman and a lobbyist at the same time.

"We would have to be very cautious," he had said when he first explained his plan. "But I can think of many issues that have no bearing on education at all where a point of view needs to be represented."

'Very awkward'

Others immediately saw a potential for conflicts.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller called Billingsley's proposed lobbying "very awkward, to say the least."

A public ethics expert in California said he thought Billingsley's authority as head of the regents could be diluted if he were representing commercial clients as well before the Assembly.

John E. O'Donnell, executive director of the state's Ethics Commission, declined to comment on Billingsley's plan, but said the law does not contain a blanket ban on lobbying by a regents chairman. Each matter brought before the commission, O'Donnell said, is judged on its own circumstances.

"I thought it was not a conflict that it would not be an improper or illegal activity for me," he said. Just as he would not consult with the governor on a law client, he thought he did not need to advise him of the lobbying plan.

Asked if he should have consulted the governor first, Billingsley answered: "In hindsight, given the reaction, I should have given him a heads-up. I did not see the political aspects of it, but I do now."

Billingsley said he spoke yesterday with Feldmann, the press secretary, and Andrea Leahy-Fucheck, Glendening's legal adviser. "She wanted to know if we had examined the legal aspects of this and I assured her we had," Billings-ley said.

Experience noted

In a letter written to a prospective client Jan. 12, Billingsley said, "My law firm has decided to expand its services to our clients by opening an office at 95 Cathedral St. in Annapolis. I will become one of the partners in residence at this office and will be devoting my time to representing our clients before various agencies and departments of the Executive Branch, as well as advocating their interests before the Legislative Branch.

"During the last 30 years, I have had the opportunity to represent clients at all levels of government in a variety of situations, including regulatory problems, administrative decisions, contracting and legislative concerns. My experience with State government over the last four years has convinced me, and our firm, that we have something of value to offer clients if I do this on a full-time basis.

"If the services we plan to offer would be of use to you or any of your associates I would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss the matter further."

Billingsley said he had failed to see how others would perceive his lobbying plan. "If people are unsettled about it, then I don't want to let it happen," he said.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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