By Ana Alaya and Russell Arrington
ANNAPOLIS – Fifty state legislators accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of sporting events tickets from lobbyists in 1993, a practice that may soon be prohibited.
The Senate is set to vote Saturday on a bill – already passed unanimously by the House – that would bar lawmakers from accepting lobbyists’ tickets to sports and cultural events.
In 1993, 50 of the 188 legislators in the General Assembly accepted at least 156 tickets to games such as the Orioles and Washington Bullets, plus 49 season passes to local racetracks, according to financial disclosure records filed at the State Ethics Commission. The 1994 reports are due later this month.
Season passes to Pimlico and Laurel Race Courses represent the most generous tickets given to lawmakers. Most legislators reported that the passes came from the Maryland Jockey Club, a registered lobbying group.
A season pass is worth $1,250, according to Tom Lattanzi of the Maryland Jockey Club. Season pass holders don’t have to pay the $5 admission fee for any of the 250 racing days of the year. They also are allowed in the racetrack clubhouse.
Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore, reported that she received – and gave away – 10 racetrack season passes valued at $12,500.
Other legislators who reported receiving season passes to the racetracks include Del. Michael Weir, D-Baltimore County, (six); Sen. John Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, (six); Sen. Norman Stone, D-Baltimore County, (four); Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, (four); then-Del. Louis Morsberger, D-Baltimore County, (four); then-Del. John Douglass, D-Baltimore, (three); Del. Cornell Dypski, D-Baltimore, (two); Sen. John Cade, R-Anne Arundel, (two); then-Del. Paul Weisengoff, D-Baltimore, (two); and then- Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-Baltimore, (two).
Weir reported that he gave his six passes, which have a total value of $7,500, to three Baltimore taverns for patrons’ use.
Weir said he would probably vote for the ban, but rejected the notion that the tickets pose a conflict of interest.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous if people think that a person’s vote can be bought by a ticket to any sporting event,” he said. “A lot of people are paranoid about things that are no problem at all as far as I can see. I’ve been down here 21 years and ain’t anybody ever bought my vote with a meal or a ticket to a ball game, and you can quote me on that.”
Del. Marsha G. Perry, D-Anne Arundel, echoed Weir.
“I can’t be bought by a bottle of scotch. I can’t be bought by a ticket. I can’t be bought by a lunch,” said Perry, who reported that she went to a Redskins game compliments of lobbyist Bruce Bereano.
But supporters of lobbying reform say the ban is needed.
“There’s little difference in the public eye between a lobbyist’s gift and a bribe,” said Deborah Povich, executive director of Maryland Common Cause. “The Senate has before it meaningful lobby reform that they should act on to restore public confidence in government.”
While gaining wide support in the House of Delegates, which passed the bill 135-0 last month, the bill has faced delays in the Senate.
Lobbying reform has been popular this session as several bills cracking down on gift-giving and lobbying have moved through the General Assembly.
Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore, sponsor of the bill that would ban the acceptance of sports tickets, said, “Overall, I am confident of lobbying reform. I believe a major part will be enacted this year.”
“The legislation that I sponsored first required full disclosure of gifts. But the committee’s (House Commerce and Government) judgement was that it would be better public service to ban all tickets.”
While most of the legislators reported the exact amount and value of the tickets they received, some were not specific.
For instance, J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick, reported only that she received “Orioles tickets and pre-game party” from the Cable Television Association and that she didn’t use the tickets.