Doctors hire Mandel as lobbyist

The state medical society hired Marvin Mandel yesterday to be its chief legislative lobbyist in Annapolis, thrusting the once-imprisoned, 72-year-old former governor fully into the thickets of Maryland politics again.As lobbyist for the 7,000 practicing physicians who belong to the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland -- better known as Med Chi -- Mr. Mandel will be responsible for monitoring legislation involving a broad range of health-care issues and testifying about them before House and Senate committees.

In the past couple years, Mr. Mandel has become more active in lobbying, joining his friend and high-paid lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano to represent GTECH Corp., the lottery computer firm, and Systems Control Inc., a firm that is trying to win the state's vehicle emissions testing contract.

But in those endeavors, the former governor has stayed on the General Assembly's periphery. As Med Chi's chief lobbyist, he will become embroiled in the many complex, often divisive and sometimes political issues that characterize the health-care debate of the 1990s: access to care; AIDS and cancer treatment; health insurance reform; and the soaring cost of health care, to name just a few.

Mr. Mandel said he was first approached about the job a week ago. He said he was directly involved in medical issues as governor between 1970 and 1978, but he acknowledged that his involvement in such matters since then has been limited to "keeping abreast" of issues as they have arisen before the legislature.

He declined to disclose how much he will be paid, although Dr. Joseph Fastow, a Calvert County physician who chairs Med Chi's council and executive committee, said it will be "substantially less" than was paid to Mr. Mandel's predecessor, Gerard E. Evans.

Mr. Evans said he resigned the job several weeks ago because Med Chi had threatened to reduce his pay and because of "philosophical" differences over the handling of various legislative issues.

According to lobbyist reports on file with the state, Med Chi paid Mr. Evans $99,000 during the most recent six-month reporting period.

Among his duties, Mr. Evans advised doctors on how to dispense to political candidates as much as $100,000 in political action committee contributions. Mr. Mandel said yesterday that he has never discussed operation of Med Chi's PAC and believes the doctors should run it themselves. But he said he was willing to offer advice if asked.

Mr. Evans bitterly denounced Med Chi's decision to hire Mr. Mandel, calling it "shameful."

"At a time when the medical profession is trying to rehabilitate its image in the public eye, they choose someone who has served time in a federal penitentiary," he said. Mr. Mandel was convicted in 1977 of mail fraud and racketeering and served 19 months in prison, but the convictions were subsequently over turned on appeal.

Dr. Fastow defended the decision, saying Mr. Mandel has "had an extraordinary record of service in areas of interest to us." He cited the former governor's involvement in setting up the Medical Mutual Liability Society, which provides malpractice insurance for doctors, as well as the state's health claims arbitration process and its Health Services Cost Review Commission.

"He is highly respected among legislators in Annapolis," he said.

But Del. Ronald A. Guns, D-Cecil, said members of the Environmental Matters Committee, which he chairs, are likely to give the doctors' new lobbyist "mixed reviews."

Several lawmakers said some of their colleagues will see Mr. Mandel as an elder statesman who has entree to Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other state leaders, while others are likely to regard him as a discredited wheeler-dealer from another era who knows little about the important health-care issues of today.

Several said they were worried about his association, real and perceived, with Mr. Bereano, who represents clients such as the tobacco industry that could present conflicts of interest with medical issues.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun