- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Evidently it is not enough to send delegates and senators to the Maryland General Assembly to speak for the voters back home local governments feel the need to hire a crew of professional lobbyists, too.

Montgomery County spent $534,000 this fiscal year on lobbying assembly members on issues that county officials favored, but voters may not have. Montgomery sent four "legislative liaisons," or lobbyists, to the session this year.

"I'm a little concerned that we're spending money that shouldn't be used if we had adequate representation," said Potomac resident William J. Skinner, president of the Maryland Taxpayers Association.

The group conducted a study of how much each jurisdiction pays for lobbyists and found Montgomery in the lead, although Baltimore city did not divulge to Mr. Skinner how much it spends. Baltimore usually spends the most.

Prince George's County spent $224,100 while Anne Arundel spent $50,850 and Howard doled out $27,800.

In all, 16 counties spent nothing their local leaders often call up the delegates and senators to push their own projects. The remaining seven counties spent $1.04 million.

But hiring professionals to look out for county interests is nothing new.

Blair Lee IV, a Maryland political observer and former Montgomery County lobbyist, recalled sharing an office with three others back in the 1980s, staying up as late as 2 a.m. to make sure his county got its fair share of state money.

"It's a huge poker game," he said, noting that rural counties with no lobbyists simply lose out. "There's very little done on merit. It's done on political muscle."

Baltimore, Mr. Lee explained, bought a building next to the State House as a headquarters for its lobbying effort.

"They have the biggest budget, the best personnel," he said.

It also helps to have the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, and the chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee, Sen. Barbara Hoffman, coming from Baltimore.

"You're in a very competitive environment," said Howard Denis, a member of the Montgomery County Council and former state senator. "I think it's money well spent."

Besides, elected officials may not always have the taxpayer's best interest in mind, Mr. Lee said. They may slight their own county to win favor with the governor or the assembly leadership. He has often worked as a watchdog to kill his own members' bills when this happens.

Mr. Denis refers to the lobbyists as staff who simply help the members get a greater share for the county that is Maryland's "economic engine."

"Legislators have a lot of work to do in their own committees," said Ben Bialek, director of the Office of Intergovernmental Relations in Montgomery County, which coordinates the lobbying effort.

Of the more than half-million dollars spent in Montgomery, $359,450 pays salaries and $174,740 is operating expenses everything from "subscriptions to the Annotated Code of Maryland to fax machines and telephones," Mr. Bialek said.

Mr. Bialek, whose office also works with federal lawmakers, cautioned that other jurisdictions tally their lobbying fees through various channels and departments. Some use county staff already employed under different titles, for instance.

The interests of counties like Frederick, which spends no money on lobbying, are handled by the Maryland Association of Counties, Mr. Bialek said.

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