- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Lobbying may not be a totally recession-proof profession, but business hummed along nicely during the 2002 General Assembly session for most of Maryland's top lobbyists.
Businesses, trade associations and nonprofit groups paid about $4.6 million to the top 10 hired guns to look out for their interests during the 90-day annual session that ended in April.
That's about $800,000 less than the amount earned by the top 10 lobbyists two years ago, the last period for which comparable figures were available.
Fees tend to go up and down from year to year, and lobbyists say the recession was not a big factor in their relationships with clients this year.
Reports filed with the State Ethics Commission showed that 10 lobbyists earned fees of $300,000 or more during the six-month period that ended April 30. Most money earned by lobbyists is collected during that period, although some collect additional fees during the other six months of the year.
The total for Jay Schwartz, who ranked No. 2 this year with fees totaling about $550,000, was off a bit from last year, but he said the economy was not a big factor.
"We did have a client or two that pulled back," Mr. Schwartz said. He lost one client because of a corporate merger, and a trade association cut back because of budgetary problems.
"We had a pretty good year, and we didn't feel overall that the impact of the recession was that great," Mr. Schwartz said.
Gary Alexander, who collected about $450,000 according to the reports, said his law firm felt the effects of the recession.
"We have longtime clients that we represent that the stock market has not been kind to. It has been felt in the business community from the largest companies to the smallest," he said.
But he said his firm, which includes five other lobbyists, did well this year, collecting nearly $1 million during the most recent reporting period.
Alan Rifkin, whose $430,427 in fees put him in the top 10 for the year, said his law firm increased its business from $1.26 million last year to $1.4 million this year.
"We actually had more clients and a higher gross revenue for the six-month period," he said.
Joel Rozner, who directs government relations activities for Mr. Rifkin's firm, collected fees totaling $501,600, ranking him third on the list.
"As long as there is a government and a General Assembly in session, there is going to be legislation which affects corporations large and small, and they are going to need representation," he said. "With a budget crunch, there may even be a heightened need."
Several lobbyists said fees were down this year because it was the last year of a four-year term and the outcome of many significant issues was already known before the session began.
"If anything, there were fewer issues this year," said Dennis McCoy, who finished sixth among the top lobbyists, with more than $450,000.
"Legislators were preoccupied with redistricting, both congressional and legislative," he said.
"That, together with the fact that there was such a tremendous budget shortfall, meant there was no real effort to expand any programs," he said.
The top earner this year was Bruce Bereano, who originally reported about $770,000 in fees.
But Mr. Bereano submitted an amended report saying that he had, because of a clerical error, reported receiving $138,000 from Social Work Associates when the actual fee was $16,000.
Other lobbyists in the top 10 were Dennis Rasmussen, with about $470,000; Robert Enten, with about $455,000; Bill Pitcher, with about $380,000; and Bryson Popham, with about $320,000.
With a new governor, a new legislature and a lot of new issues, lobbyists are looking forward to a better year in 2003.
"The first year of a new term is always busy," Mr. McCoy said.
Mr. Schwartz said clients who are unable to get their bills through the legislature for a year or two may pull back and then try again when a new General Assembly takes office.
Gambling is one issue which has lobbyists looking hopefully to the future.
The racing industry and casino companies made an effort to stir up interest in slot-machine legislation after the legislature took office four years ago, but ran into adamant opposition from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Democrat, who said he would veto any gambling bill that reached his desk.
"There's no question they pulled back a year or so ago," Mr. Schwartz said.
But gambling is expected to emerge as a major issue in 2003, especially if U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. wins the gubernatorial race.
Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, has proposed putting slot machines at racetracks as a way to raise money for schools while helping the horse-racing industry.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is opposed to slot machines, but she could come under heavy pressure from within the Democratic Party to relent on the gambling issue unless the state's fiscal condition improves substantially.
Lobbyists also expect a study of Maryland's tax structure set to begin next year will attract the attention of many businesses fearful they will be targeted for tax increases.
"One thing is certain: Government is a self-perpetuating process," Mr. Rifkin said. "It's almost certain there will be significant public policy issues and matters that have to be addressed every year."
That means a never-ending source of revenue for the lobbyists hired to look out for interests in Annapolis.


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