Josh Kurtz: Money Tells Stories

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Former state Sen. Rob Garagiola (D) lost his 2012 congressional race in spectacular fashion. Although he is only 42 years old, his political career may be over.

But there are consolations – in Garagiola’s case, 927,415 of them. That’s the amount of money Garagiola earned (along with 17 cents) as a lobbyist with the firm of Alexander & Cleaver between Nov. 1 of last year and this April 30 – the period covering the 2015 General Assembly session.

Welcome to the Big Time, Rob. Surely a career in the House of Representatives, deep in the minority and with Capitol Hill more toxic than ever, couldn’t be this rewarding.

Garagiola’s roster of clients for the session takes up three full pages on the Maryland State Ethics Commission’s list of registered lobbyists. They run from Albenoga Bioenergy Development to the YMCA of Central Maryland, and include the Association of Maryland Docking Pilots, Discovery Communications, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., GTECH Corp., Health Facilities Association of Maryland, Lockheed Martin, Norfolk Southern Corp., Rite Aid, SAIC and Verizon, among many others – an enviable portfolio for any Annapolis lobbyist.

Although 2015 wasn’t the first session that Garagiola lobbied his former colleagues, it was the first time he appeared in the top tier of lobbyist earnings. His $927,415.17 placed him fourth on the list, according to a new report by the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

Fifteen registered lobbyists earned $500,000 or more in the six-month period – and it’s a very familiar list of names. The line-up:

1. Gerry Evans $1,803,400

2. Tim Perry $1,150,556

3. Joel Rozner $968,908.24

4. Garagiola $927,415.17

5. Lisa Harris Jones $904,350

6. Bruce Bereano $896,450

7. Michael Johansen $866,165.10

8. Nick Manis $769,333

9. Frank Boston III $688,088.22

10. Steve Wise $648,856

11. Pam Kasemeyer $628,623.22

12. Steve Proctor $610,525

13. Sean Malone $593,500

14. John Stierhoff $527,812.50

15. Joe Bryce $512,933

In all, 109 lobbyists have earned $50,000 or more since Nov. 1. Perhaps Annapolis isn’t such a sleepy town after all.

If nothing else, the Maryland lobbying class – along with the political class – has become more professionalized than it once was, and is feasting on the financial opportunities. Now, more than ever, you’ve got to follow the money to figure out what’s going on in Maryland politics – at a time when media coverage of the State House is more limited than it’s ever been.

Twenty-nine entities spent $150,000 or more on lobbying in the six-month period, and 179 spent at least $50,000. As is often the case, the health care and energy sectors were the big spenders.

Not Just the Bereano Way

If you were thinking of going to the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield tomorrow but were fretting that you hadn’t bought tickets yet, you shouldn’t. You can pick them up right at the gate at the Somers Cove Marina – which has been the case every year the event has been held.

You might not know that, however, if you were receiving missives in recent days from lobbyist Bereano. Like many political fundraising appeals, Bereano – who does not use email personally – sent out emails to his political contacts telling them it was the “LAST CHANCE” to buy crab feast tickets from him.

Here is yet another example of how Bereano has all but taken over this time-honored event. I’ve written about this phenomenon before (see http://www.centermaryland.org/index.php?option=com_easyblog&view=entry&id=728), and I’m not going to devote a lot of ink and fury to it here.

Bereano loves Tawes, and he’s well within his right to have a big tent, invite whomever he wants and offer premium services to the elected officials and political hangers-on who show up. He’s a big shot in Annapolis in part because he makes everyone else in Maryland politics feel like a big shot. That’s a rare talent.

The onus is on everyone else in the Maryland political community to not just make Bereano’s tent the focal point of activity. Several interest groups also set up tents at the crab feast – not to mention the fact that there are thousands of real voters who are there to eat seafood, drink beer and have a good time. Don’t they all deserve our leaders’ attention, too?

At the very least, acknowledge that it isn’t just the Bereano Show by buying your tickets for the event from someone other than Bereano.

No Place Like Home

At the same time the Ethics Commission was putting out its latest data on lobbying, Chase Cook of The Capital newspaper, in a move that fellow journalists and government watchdogs should be grateful for, created a database (http://www.capitalgazette.com/data/government/cgnews-database-legislator-expenses-during-2015-maryland-general-assembly-session-20150703-htmlstory.html) that tracked reimbursements the legislators claimed for the 90-day session.

Cook’s accompanying article, naturally, focused on the Anne Arundel County delegation, and pointed out that many took reimbursements for lodging – even though they live close to Annapolis. Del. Pam Beidle (D), who lives in Linthicum, about 24 miles from State Circle and claimed the full $9,100, was unapologetic.

“I’m so busy during session,” she told Cook. “I’m more effective there and present.”

In the article, Anne Arundel Sen. Ed Reilly (R) called out his in-county colleagues who took any lodging reimbursement.

But if you’re going to scrutinize Anne Arundel members, how about some Prince Georgians? Del. Marvin Holmes (D), for example, took the full $9,100 lodging reimbursement for the session, though he lives in Upper Marlboro, 22 miles away from the State House. His district includes Bowie, which borders Anne Arundel County.

Three House members whose districts include a sliver of Anne Arundel but live in Prince George’s also took the maximum housing allowance: Dels. Ben Barnes (D), Barbara Frush (D) and Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D).

Looking farther afield, what about the fact that a married couple – Frederick County Sen. Ron Young (D) and Frederick County Del. Karen Lewis Young (D) – each claimed the $9,100 housing reimbursement?

Even more outrageous is the fact that some lawmakers keep their hotel rooms for the 90-day session but return home on the weekends, offering their prime Annapolis lodging to donors and other supporters while they’re gone – a practice that isn’t documented but is talked about openly in Annapolis.

Maryland state legislators aren’t paid much -- $45,207 a year for what is clearly more than part-time work. Some say they consider the reimbursements for lodging, meals and mileage part of their overall compensation, and that’s a fair point. But clearly there are abuses – and the system ought to be fixed.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.