ANNAPOLIS – When GOP lawmakers unveiled their “Republican Contract With Maryland” last October, they vowed to ban all gifts from lobbyists.
Republicans in each chamber have since sponsored legislation barring lawmakers from so much as attending free receptions, a long-standing Statehouse tradition.
But many of the same Republicans tapped into their share of lobbyists’ gifts during the 1993 legislative session, according to the most recent disclosure reports on file with the State Ethics Commission.
Del. Anita Stup, R-Frederick, reported receiving flowers from Bruce Bereano, Maryland’s top-paid lobbyist, as well as small gifts like a calendar and a magazine subscription. Stup says there is no inconsistency with her co-sponsorship of the lobbying reform.
“I know that no gift I’ve ever received swayed my judgment,” Stup says. “If you try to say that receiving something like a coffee mug while pushing for reform is hypocritical, you are going to have a tough time proving that case.”
If small gifts do not influence legislators, why the need for a total ban?
Public perception, says House Minority Leader Robert Kittleman, R-Howard.
“There is no question that the public very, very strongly feel lobbyists have undue influence,” he says. “I feel these gifts in many cases have little effect [on legislators], but the people believe they do.”
But the gifts Kittleman reported receiving in 1993 — food at receptions and a free invitation to a $125-a-head Maryland Chamber of Commerce breakfast — would not be tolerated under the bill his party is sponsoring.
“We are proposing a dramatic fix to the problem, but we need to clean the system,” Kittleman says.
Del. Albert Redmer, R-Baltimore County, also cites public perception as the reason for a total ban.
“Most of the courtship of lobbyists doesn’t really change legislation, at least I would hate to think it does,” he says. “I think the line where most people get uncomfortable with gifts like trips and sporting tickets.
“There is a feeling that they buy votes.”
However, Redmer says the sports tickets and fishing trip he accepted from lobbyists in 1993 did not buy his votes. The delegate reported receiving Redskins’ tickets worth $80 from Bereano and $60 in baseball tickets from Jack Lodge, a lobbyist for Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.
“Me going to a sporting event certainly doesn’t change the way I vote on a bill,” Redmer says. “For instance, the fishing trip I went on was a treat for my son — it was more for him.”
Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery, says banning lobbyists’ gifts would put an end to discrepancies in the financial disclosure process.
Maryland law requires legislators to report all gifts they receive worth more than $25. This presents problems when the price of a gift or meal is not clear.
Roesser listed each reception she attended in 1993 on her financial disclosure report, while most of her colleagues did not report them.
“I can tell you I am not singled out in these instances — I know I was not the only one there,” Roesser says. “I’m certainly an outsider.
“I was just very thorough in my reporting, and if we put an end to these gifts altogether, we wouldn’t have these loopholes.”
Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County, says he supports a total ban on gifts because it mirrors standards he has set for himself.
“I generally don’t go to receptions unless it’s very important,” he says. “I usually eat lunch in my office every day. I’ve made it a policy to not accept gifts.”
However, Boozer says he violated this policy once and “I’ve regretted it ever since.”
Boozer attended an Oriole game with his 15-year-old son Bo as guests of his son’s classmate and classmate’s father — Joseph Coale III, a lobbyist for Crown Central Petroleum Corporation.
“I went thinking nothing of it,” Boozer says. “Afterwards, I thought I better file, but it was ridiculous. I reported a gift bag that was given to me — I threw that bag in the trash can.
“Later, I told my wife I never should have gone.”
Del. Robert Baldwin, R-Anne Arundel County, reported accepting a gallon of Chivas Regal, scotch that sells for $54 per gallon at Leader Drugs in Annapolis, from a business his contracting company has worked with.
“For years they have been giving me a gallon of scotch,” he says.
But Baldwin says he supports the ban on gifts. “It seems like we’re getting down to quibbling over cups of coffee,” he says. “But if gifts are banned, that’s fine by me.” -30-