The power couple of Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone once again topped lobbying totals in Baltimore last year, bringing in $285,000 for their work in the city — nearly double what businesses paid them a year before.
Lobbying forms reviewed by The Baltimore Sun show Malone made $149,250 and Harris Jones $134,750 in 2013 representing their clients' interests on city legislation and contracts. The couple are close friends with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who officiated at their wedding in Las Vegas and vacationed at Harris Jones' Delaware beach house. The mayor has described Harris Jones as a "lifelong friend."
Rawlings-Blake said Friday that she does not let her personal friendships influence policy.
"The reality is when you are a government official, lobbyists work very hard to influence you and the decisions that are made," the mayor said. "The way I have always conducted myself — and the facts bear this out — is that my first and only priority is doing what I think is best for the taxpayers. I have business and personal relationships with lobbyists, some of which I have known before I was an elected official. On issue after issue and year after year I have set the tone with my actions and decided each issue based on the merits"
The couple had a mixed record of success on their projects last year.
While Harris Jones & Malone LLC's client Itron won an $83 million water metering contract, their client Lexington Square Partners LLC lost its exclusive deal to build the so-called "Superblock" development in West Baltimore. That company subsequently sued the city.
Harris Jones represented the Washington-based American Chemistry Council, which successfully lobbied against a proposed ban on foam products in Baltimore. But she also lobbied on behalf of phones-for-cash kiosk company EcoATM, whose machines were banned by the City Council.
The couple say they're proud of their efforts, which they say generally result in their clients' companies doing business in Baltimore.
"Baltimore is a great place to do business, which is why we are based here," Malone said. "We are proud to help our clients work and invest in our city."
But some think lobbyists should not attempt to influence politicians with whom they're friends.
"There is a relationship there that your average citizen doesn't have," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, director of Common Cause Maryland. "It would be in the best interest for the citizens for her to not directly lobby the mayor and others she has a close connection with. It's all about access, and having that level of relationship creates an unlevel playing friend for every day citizens."
Victor Corbin, president of the Fells Prospect Community Association, said he was disappointed to learn the DC-based American Chemistry Council spent about $45,000 opposing Councilman James Kraft's proposed ban on foam products. The group paid $18,750 to both Harris Jones and Malone.
"If they're not from Baltimore, they really shouldn't be here, in my opinion," said Corbin, who testified in favor of the ban as an environmentally friendly idea. "It's kind of sad. I don't see how the City Council couldn't see through this."
In all, the forms show that companies spent nearly $1.1 million on lobbyists to influence decisions in Baltimore, including some of the most hotly debated bills last year.
Developer Michael Beatty spent about $22,000 on two lobbyists to help win millions in subsidies for his Harbor Point development. Billboard owner Clear Channel Outdoor paid lobbyist Stanley S. Fine about $20,000 to oppose a tax on billboard advertisements.
But no bill brought out the lobbying more than Councilman Carl Stokes' proposed cap on so-called "convenience fees" charged by Ticketmaster and other ticket sellers to concerts and sporting events.
Concert promoter Live Nation, Major League Baseball and the Baltimore Ravens spent a total of $92,000 opposing the bill — the most spent for lobbying on any single measure. The bill failed.
"It's unfortunately become the American political system," Stokes said. "Obviously, I was disappointed with the outcome. I wish the consumers had the same resources to present their case and make it a fair fight. The moneyed interests have an unfair advantage that sometimes tilt the political process toward the moneyed interests."
Stokes said he believed Harris Jones and Malone are similar to lobbyists in past mayoral administrations. "It's pretty much a time-honored tradition at this point that the guys and gals who are the most hired are the ones who are closest to the administration," Stokes said.
Speed camera firm American Traffic Solutions Inc. spent $25,000 lobbying city government in hopes of winning a new speed and red light camera contract after the city shut the system down in April amid accuracy concerns. ATS paid $12,000 to lobbyist Aaron Greenfield; $6,000 to his business partner William Kress; and $7,000 to Frank D. Boston III, during 2013.
Boston facilitated a meeting with ATS and deputy mayor Khalil Zaied, who oversees the speed camera operations, in December, according to emails obtained by The Sun in a public information request. He tried unsuccessfully to get a second meeting with deputy mayor Kaliope Parthemos, who is in charge of economic development.
"I do not need to meet with them. Khalil is the appropriate person," Parthemos responded by email.
"Come on Kali... Show me some love," Boston responded. "Everyone says you're the key person to talk to on this issue. It would be good for me to have you meet the client even it's a ten minute hello. These guys are the real deal."
ATS spokesman Charles Territo said the lobbying is part of an effort to win a speed and red light camera contract in Baltimore. He said the firm could improve camera operations in Baltimore, noting the troubles with erroneous tickets issued under previous vendors Xerox State & Local Solutions and Brekford Corp.
"ATS is the largest red-light and speed safety camera company in the U.S. and the program provider of choice for several Maryland communities," he said. "Given the public nature of the previous vendors failures we feel it is important to offer our perspective on the elements of a successful road safety camera program."
Competitor Xerox retained Harris Jones during 2013, but she reported no payments from the firm.
The couple's work in Baltimore represents a smaller amount than their business lobbying the State House. Malone, who was once an aide to O'Malley, earned $585,000 last year lobbying state government. Harris Jones made $865,000.
Top lobbyists in Baltimore City for 2013
1 Sean R. Malone – $149,250
2 Lisa Harris Jones - $134,750
3 Frank D. Boston III - $85,402
4 Stanley S. Fine - $70,987
5 Joseph L. Smith - $60,666
6 Eric L. Bryant - $60,137
7 Margaret M. Witherup - $57,283
8 Ivan V. Lanier - $42,120
9 Peter O'Malley - $41,553
10 Paul A. Tiburzi - $41,278