Talk isn't cheap -- at least in Annapolis


FOR ALL the attention that slots has received, it might surprise some that gambling interests aren't the biggest spenders when it comes to promoting their interests in Annapolis.

That distinction belongs to the medical industry - in particular, doctors and the insurance companies that protect them from malpractice claims. They pay the highest fees to individual lobbyists, according to lobbyist disclosure forms that were filed last week with the state ethics commission.

The capital's best-paid lobbyists can earn upward of $600,000 during the 90-legislative session, during which they work with lawmakers to get bills passed, killed or altered to boost or protect their clients' profits. If you're a lobbyist fortunate enough to snag the right client, you can earn a third of that from a single employer.

The Medical Mutual Liability Insurance Society of Maryland (Med Mutual) paid David M. Funk, a partner with the firm Funk & Bolton, $219,650 in the six-month period that ended April 30. That appears to be the largest single payment to an individual lobbyist this year.

Joseph A. Schwartz III received $172,182 from MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, nearly half of his $393,981 billings.

The high fees reflect the heightened activity on medical malpractice issues late last year, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. convened a surprise special legislative session on the issue during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.

The filings also show that two of the Assembly's most prominent alumni, both of whom were defeated in the 2002 election, are expanding their lobbying practices at a healthy clip.

Former House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a partner in the firm Alexander & Cleaver, earned $279,417 representing developers, gambling businesses and dozens of other clients. The salary of the House speaker is $53,500 this year (rising to $56,500 in 2006).

Former Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman collected $226,278. Her largest client: The Princeton Review, an academic test preparation service, which paid her $46,350. The salary of a senator is $40,500, scheduled to increase to $43,500 next year.

No, Ehrlich doesn't covet a Senate seat, says staffer

Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, had a chance last week to ask the governor's chief spokesman a question that has been chewed on for months in political circles.

Isn't Ehrlich privately peeved, Schaller asked during an appearance on WBAL radio, that it is Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, and not the governor, who is most likely to become the GOP's nominee for U.S. Senate? After all, Ehrlich launched Steele into national prominence by selecting him as a running mate.

"Is it killing the governor that, after 20 years, the man who single-handedly built the modern Republican Party in this state can't run for the United States Senate because of the cycle?" Schaller asked.

Responded communications chief Paul E. Schurick: "Not at all. The governor is enjoying every day in this office."

Business group honors Busch's 'evenhandedness'

He's Public Enemy No. 1 for the Ehrlich administration and many of its allies in the business community, but the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce honored House Speaker Michael E. Busch last week as Legislator of the Year.

When the Maryland Chamber of Commerce urged its members last year to "get dangerous" and go after anti-business legislators, this isn't exactly what it had in mind. The governor himself first urged business leaders to "get dangerous" during a speech after the 2004 session, and the state chamber adopted the phrase as the theme of an annual conference.

Busch received a 20 percent rating from Maryland Business for Responsive Government in 2004, 60 percentage points below the state chamber's benchmark for endorsing a candidate. Busch is seen as a business bogeyman in some circles for proposing tax increases to solve the state's budget problems and opposing slot machines, a top state chamber priority.

But at an awards dinner Thursday, the Arundel chamber praised Busch - who lives in Annapolis and works for the Anne Arundel County recreation department - for his "evenhanded leadership" on health, insurance and economic development issues, according to a news release.

Busch was not a contender for the state chamber's awards, said spokesman William Burns. They went instead to Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat, and Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, the House minority whip from Southern Maryland.

Former Del. Baker aspires to office in Prince George's

Former Del. Rushern L. Baker III announced yesterday the formation of an exploratory committee for a possible run for Prince George's County executive.

Considered one of the state's most promising young African-American leaders, Baker, a 46-year-old Democrat, is frequently mentioned as a candidate for lieutenant governor, but said yesterday he is not interested in being selected for a ticket.

"I'm going to focus strictly on county executive," he said.

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