By Stephanie Barrett, Sue Fernandez and James Franklin
ANNAPOLIS – Being a Maryland legislator has its perks.
Dinner in New Orleans, Baltimore Orioles tickets and season passes to Pimlico Race Course are among gifts state lawmakers take in, a Capital News Service computer analysis found.
A review of financial disclosure forms filed by 118 members of the General Assembly showed that more than half reported getting gifts from lobbyists and others in 1994.
When asked, most legislators said the meals and entertainment they received were goodwill gestures and had no impact on their votes.
But Deborah Povich, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause of Maryland, said gifts from lobbyists are meant to influence legislators.
“They have some impact or the interest spending the money wouldn’t be spending it,” she said. “It may be the difference between a legislator getting to hear one side of an issue for 45 minutes or an hour at a baseball game … versus never hearing the other side.”
Legislators receive the most gifts at the beginning and end of the General Assembly session, Povich said. “You’ll see cups lined up and paper weights, or a basket with African violets,” she said.
Capital News Service looked at the most recent forms turned in to the State Ethics Commission — due April 30, 1995 for gifts received in 1994. The analysis disregarded the forms of 70 legislators who were elected in 1994, but did not take office until 1995.
Reported gifts ranged from a $400 Christmas floral arrangement for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings III, D-Baltimore, to tickets to a crab and clam bake for K. Bennett Bozman, D-Somerset, to horse-race passes for 15 lawmakers.
“A gift is not just something that comes in a box,” said Del. Carol Petzold, D-Montgomery, who reported receiving allergy shots, meals and attending lobbyists’ receptions.
Senate Budget and Taxation Commitee Chairwoman Barbara A. Hoffman, D-Baltimore, reported receiving $12,900 in gifts, the highest total value disclosed by any legislator.
Pimlico Race Course gave her 10 season passes, valued at $12,500, which Hoffman said she gave to Concord Apartments, housing for senior citizens. She also reported receiving complimentary invitations to Pimlico’s Triple Crown Ball and the Greater Baltimore Committee annual meeting.
Hoffman suggested that although she reported receiving the largest total value in gifts, that may not actually have been the case. She said others may not be as thorough in filling out disclosure forms or simply “don’t keep track” of gifts.
“I’ve always believed in full disclosure, because I’m not doing anything wrong,” Hoffman said.
Del. Michael Weir, D-Baltimore County, reported the second- highest total gift value — eight season passes to the racetrack, worth $10,000. Weir said he gave all the passes away.
“They’re hardly of any value to me,” he said. “I have received them for a number of years. I give them to local patrons.”
Recipients included the Veterans of Foreign War, the Young Man’s Democratic Club and the Tempo Lounge, a “road-house bar … where you can get a quiet beer without getting into a fight,” Weir said.
Weir, who also went to a few Baltimore Orioles games compliments of “some business group or organization,” said gifts don’t influence his votes.
“I’ve never been swayed in my 22 years [as a lawmaker],” he said. “My conscience ain’t going to be bought by a meal or a ball game.”
Del. Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George’s, who also reported getting racetrack passes and giving them to constituents, said he doesn’t request the gifts. The track owners “just send them to me,” he said.
But Thomas Lattanzi, comptroller at Pimlico, said lawmakers write to the track asking for the passes. “We don’t initiate anything with legislators,” Lattanzi said.
Hoffman confirmed the practice. “I’ve always just called them in the spring. People like the racetrack passes,” she said.
Gifts often involved sports. Baseball tickets were reported as gifts 21 times, basketball tickets five times, football tickets twice, and soccer and hockey tickets one time each. Four legislators reported playing golf compliments of lobbyists.
While some legislators could be found on the green or at the ball park, others were dining out. More than 40 legislators reported eating complimentary dinners, lunches or breakfasts, making meals the gift most often disclosed.
Sen. Jean W. Roesser, R-Montgomery, reported 22 gifts on her disclosure form, the highest total number. Most were meals and receptions.
“I just stand out because I’m complete [in filling out the financial disclosure form],” Roesser said.
She added that the entire General Assembly was invited to most of the receptions she attended, including events sponsored by the Maryland Dental Association, Maryland Funeral Directors and the Maryland Restaurant Association.
Roesser said some gifts were simply gestures of appreciation. For instance, the $200 season passes she disclosed receiving from the Olney Theater are given to all legislators from Montgomery County.
“It’s quite a tradition, it creates good will,” Roesser said.
But she hinted that good will may lead to favorable legislative action for the Olney, mentioning that as Maryland’s official theater it has received bond money from the state, including $250,000 this year. “It’s a way of thanking us for supporting their bond bills and I guess it’s a way of making sure that they get more money down the road,” Roesser said. -30-