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Healthy sums for Maryland lobbyists

With deep-pocketed casino companies apparently satisfied with the Maryland General Assembly’s changes to the state’s gambling laws in 2012, the list of top-spending Annapolis lobbying groups returned to historical norms this year.

The perennially high-spending health care industry spent more money lobbying state lawmakers than any other in 2013, according to an annual report released by the Maryland State Ethics Commission last week.

The Maryland Hospital Association spent $380,448.17 on lobbying between Nov. 1 and April 30, giving it the top spot among businesses and organizations who employed lobbyists. MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society, was second, spending $303,182.13 in the six-month span that included the legislature’s annual 90-day session.

Gerard E. Evans, the top-earning lobbyist in Maryland for the second consecutive year, made a sliver of his approximately $1.18 million meeting with lawmakers on behalf of the Maryland Hospital Association. The veteran political influencer said health care lobbying would likely increase next year, as state implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues.

“I think health care’s always there; it sits always in the top couple,” Evans said Friday. “With the further movement of Obamacare, we’re going to see more and more activity.”

But the health care totals pale in comparison with last year’s sums, when Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming Inc. — desperate to persuade lawmakers to favor Rosecroft Raceway as the location for Maryland’s sixth casino — spent $877,432.84 in the same time span to influence expanded gambling legislation. That’s more than the top two big spenders this year combined.

The lack of gambling dollars, however, won’t likely drive Maryland’s top lobbyists to seek secondary employment.

Evans, who does much of his lobbying on behalf of the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos P.C., beat his 2012 earnings by more than $100,000. Last year’s second-place lobbyist, Joel D. Rozner of Rifkin, Weiner, Livingston, Levitan & Silver LLC, earned $909,012.94 between Nov. 1 and April 30, while Lisa Harris Jones of Harris Jones & Malone LLC kept the No. 3 slot by earning $864,625, according to ethics commission records.

Evans said much of his time was spent working on the administration’s public-private partnerships bill — as he did last year — ensuring that the legislation was not written in such a way that it could be applied retroactively, as the 2012 bill would have been. Evans helped to kill that bill last year, but in 2013 he endorsed amendments that the legislature agreed to before giving final approval to the bill on the final day of session.

A primary objective of Angelos — who personally lobbied against the public-private partnerships legislation last year — was that the bill ensured a bureaucrat could not “get together with a special interest and cook up some kind of deal,” Evans said.

“The P3 bill took an incredible amount of time,” he said, adding he also worked on civil justice issues on behalf of the Angelos firm.

Rozner, who worked on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind bill and various real estate issues, was less comfortable characterizing his work in 2013 by wins and losses. He said having the second-highest billable total was not necessarily something he was proud of.

“The reporting of numbers are somewhat embarrassing,” Rozner said. “First of all, the public interprets those as our income, and they are certainly not that. More importantly, they don’t necessarily reflect what is most important, and that is whether or not the clients are satisfied with the quality of your work.”

Two recently departed O’Malley staffers also did well enough in their first legislative session since resigning last year to join the 103 lobbyists who earned more than $50,000 in the six-month period reported by the ethics commission.

Former administration legislative director Joseph C. Bryce, now with Manis, Canning & Associates, earned $146,750 representing multiple companies, including Adventist HealthCare Inc., the Maryland Coalition of Nurse Practitioners and CSX Transportation Inc.

Rick Abbruzzese, the governor’s former director of public affairs, who became a partner at the Rifkin firm last December, earned $54,016.76 while lobbying for several organizations, including Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. The advocacy group paid Abbruzzese $20,000 to support provisions of the administration’s landmark gun control legislation, which when approved gave Maryland some of the toughest gun laws in the country.

“It was an exciting first session, particularly with gun violence prevention legislation that the General Assembly considered,” Abbruzzese said. “It was extremely gratifying to be part of that process, to work with advocates like Vinny [DeMarco, fellow lobbyist] and to see people like Sen. [Brian E.] Frosh and Del. [Kathleen M.] Dumais lead those floor debates.”

Abbruzzese, who said he did not directly lobby lawmakers while on the governor’s staff, said his previous job was “helpful” in most cases, but that it “depended on the member.”

“Members of the General Assembly were very deliberative in their approach, and I respect that about them, whether we were on the same side or not,” Abbruzzese said. “I found it to be pretty exciting to be on this side for the first time. You get greater appreciation for the process.”