May 4, 2010

Lobbying doesn’t stop once session is over

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

The General Assembly is done until after the election, but one group of Annapolis players never closes up shop: the lobbyists.

They still have plenty of things to keep them busy, from working on local issues to watching task forces and summer studies, getting things prepared for next year’s session and simply maintaining relationships with lawmakers.

All of this is to ensure their clients get their money’s worth in influence outside of the three-month legislative session. After all, state government operates 12 months a year.

Although the heavy pace set during the session has slowed somewhat — there are few committee hearings, and no voting sessions or floor debate — most lobbyists argue their job hasn’t changed since Sine Die. They’re just focusing on different aspects of lobbying or of government.

Joel Rozner, the highest-billing lobbyist last year and member of the law and lobbying firm Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, said that while the workdays are no longer “16 hours” long, his firm still does quite a bit of lobbying work. It’s just not directly in support of or opposition to pending legislation.

“We’re still doing work for our clients, whether it be lobbying the executive [branch], working on ongoing projects, or for procurements for clients,” Rozner said. “Lobbying is more than just the legislative side–it catches everybody’s attention and monopolizes our time–but we’re still working on these other projects that may or may not be impacted by legislation.”

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Brian Frosh said that he still gets calls from lobbyists and advocates all the time. The difference he notices is that conversations are less focused on the immediacies, and more on potential bills for next year.

“It’s a continuation of what happens in session, just more attenuated,” Frosh said. “The pressure is not as intense in the off-season, partly because there’s no deadline looming.”

Lobbyist Bruce Bereano said he spends a lot of his time keeping in touch with lawmakers and government officials, as well as working at the local level with county councils.

“It’s not a situation where you’re doing nothing at all,” Bereano said. “Some clients are preparing for next session, or are going to be involved in campaigns–there’s a lot of activity. Personally, I don’t want to sit around and do nothing, that’s not my schtick.”

And some lobbyists, like Lisa Harris Jones of Harris Jones & Malone, LLC, go straight from State House to issues in Baltimore City. She represents corporate clients like Constellation Energy, Verizon and Walmart,

“[After Sine Die,] we immediately went straight into conference calls working with issues at City Hall,” Harris Jones said. “We don’t take a break. We juggle our local work during session and dive straight back into it afterward. Especially with the way the city of Baltimore is set up, their budget is due in July, so there are a lot of hearings.”

Ryan O’Donnell offers a different perspective. He’s the executive director for Common Cause Maryland, and although officially registered with the state as a lobbyist, he says he is more of an advocate.

O’Donnell spends more of his time between April and December on public education, trying to bring about the changes his group supports in a grassroots manner. He wants people to know what legislation passed, what failed, and who is responsible.

“You can’t stop when the session stops,” O’Donnell said. “You have to keep up the momentum and education all year round. You can’t let lawmakers’ obligations stop at Sine Die.”