Schwartz Leaves G.A. Session with a Slew of Wins
Much of the General Assembly session this year was marked in defeat — those of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and others — but for lobbyist Joseph A. Schwartz III, failures were few and far between.
The representative of both MedChi, the state doctor’s organization, and the liquor store and tavern owners behind the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Dealers Association, Schwartz pulled off a nearly perfect session convincing lawmakers to see things from his clients’ perspective.
"I guess the record sort of speaks for itself," Schwartz, a veteran of 29 legislative sessions, said.
Lobbying for tavern owners, Schwartz helped kill Ehrlich’s slots proposal, spiked bills that would double or triple the beer and alcohol tax and nullified attempts to allow large chain liquor stores in the state.
Working for MedChi, Schwartz worked a compromise with Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Sen. Paula C. Hollinger on SB 500 that would have lowered standards of proof for state doctors reviewed by the Board of Physician's Quality Assurance.
Tavern owners also scored a victory when the Senate Finance Committee voted down a complete indoor smoking ban, but Schwartz did not lobby the issue because MedChi and the licensed beverage association took opposing stances on the bill.
“Jay Schwartz and Pam Metz are an outstanding team,” said T. Michael Preston, executive director of MedChi, of Schwartz and his Baltimore law partner. “At the end of the day the physicians and the citizens of Maryland can be happy with the result.”
Not everybody was so willing to sing his praises.
At issue with SB 500 was Hollinger’s belief that Maryland doctors were making mistakes and avoiding punishment because of a high evidence threshold. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, favored a “preponderance” standard — a simple majority of the evidence — while MedChi wanted to keep the “clear and convincing” standard.
In the end, Schwartz and MedChi worked out a compromise to apply the tougher burden of proof to substandard care cases while allowing the preponderance threshold for other forms of misconduct, such as fraud or abuse. Without an agreement, the board would have expired in July and Maryland would have had no licensing body.
The issue divided the House and Senate after Hollinger refused to budge from her position. Schwartz, she said, compromised to get the bill out of the Senate and then negotiated a separate deal with the House.
“He does not have a lot of credibility with me,” Hollinger said. “We worked with him on the Senate bill. He got over to the House and said, ‘Oh, that was just for the Senate.’”
After spending hours working with Schwartz on amendments, Hollinger said she accepted nearly 95 percent of what MedChi and Schwartz presented. There were people on the board who should not be there, Hollinger said, and problems besides standards of proof, but MedChi was not always willing to compromise.
Del. Robert A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, had high praise for Schwartz and said Hollinger’s claims of double dealing were not true.
“He’s a very, very respected lobbyist,” Zirkin said. “He always gives it to you straight, which is all you can ask of a lobbyist.”
Schwartz, he said, did yeoman’s work making a bad bill better. He said Hollinger was intent on ending the board, and Schwartz worked to maintain some protections.
While the physician’s review board was a contentious issue, no issue got more attention this session than Ehrlich’s plan to allow slot machines at four state racetracks.
Schwartz was instrumental in organizing opposition, knitting together a coalition of business, social and religious groups called StopSlotsMaryland and stewarding the group through the twists and turns of the debate at the urging of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
“The first meeting was a little dicey,” Schwartz said of the liquor store owners, Muslim imams and Methodist priests who sat down together. “They’re sort of skeptical about what I was doing in the room.”
Holding weekly meetings and organizing the group’s message, Schwartz colorfully testified to House and Senate members about the fight of “our guys” — the small business owners — against “their guys” — the millionaire racetrack owners doling out free drinks and food to gamblers.
“I think it does have some sway, but only because we were part of a coalition,” he said. “We had a common objective and different messages. To coordinate that took a lot of time.”
Killing the liquor tax was easier, he said, because the Legislature would have had to triple or quadruple the tax to find meaningful revenues — and those kind of increases raise eyebrows around Annapolis.
Licensed Beverage Association members were grateful for the efforts of their long-time advocate.
“I thought Jay had a real good session and kept abreast of the issues,” said Jack Milani, owner of Monaghan’s Pub in Baltimore County and a legislative activist for the beverage dealers. “He was always well prepared. It was a tremendous year for us.”
MedChi expected Schwartz would be busy next year too, anticipating a slew of bills to weaken Maryland's medical malpractice tort reform.
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Winners and losers
Joseph A. Schwartz III
This lobbyist helped to kill slots and higher alcohol taxes on behalf of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association. He also played a part in killing a bill to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, negotiated a deal on the board overseeing physician quality and helped, in his way, to stick a knife into the CareFirst deal. There isn't a sandwich named after him at Harry Browne's for nothing.
Rising stars on inside track
New class of hired guns strides State House halls
by Alan Brody / Staff Writer
Friday, Jan. 9, 2009
ANNAPOLIS - When the current titans of the State House lobbying corps call it quits, an abundant crop of rising stars will vie to take their place among the elite.
There is, of course, no formula to determine which of today's up-an-comers will become tomorrow's hotshots, but those in the business say it's not difficult to identify those who stand out.
"There are relationships you have to build, issues that you have to discuss and [an ability to] gain the confidence of the legislator that what you're telling them is the truth and that you're able to tell both sides of the story," said George N. Manis, who has lobbied in Annapolis since the 1960s, when there were nearly 10 times as many lawmakers as full-time lobbyists.
Many more lobbyists work the hallways these days: Nearly 700 were registered with the State Ethics Commission in 2008.
And they're a more diverse bunch, with a greater number of women and blacks, as well as more young people looking to break into the business at an earlier age.
Discussions with dozens of veteran lobbyists, longtime politicians and behind-the-scenes operatives turned up those with particularly bright futures, many of whom already are well known around State Circle.
Steven J. Wise
Another lobbyist considered to be on the rise is Steven J. Wise, who became a partner at the firm of Jay Schwartz and Pamela M. Kasemeyer last January.
The Eastern Shore native boasts a wide range of clients in the medical, gaming, insurance, utility and alcohol beverage industries. He was the state's 25th - highest-earning lobbyist in the first half of 2008 and was lauded for his ability to deal with members of both parties, his workmanlike personality and his honest approach.
"No matter if you agree with him or disagree with him, he doesn't steer anybody wrong, Miller said.
Wise, 40, came to Annapolis in 1994 as an aide to Del. Peter A. Hammen (D-Dist.46) of Baltimore after a year on Capitol Hill with then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.
The secret to success as a lobbyist really is no secret, he said. "If you're just honest with people and they can trust your word, that to me is the key. Once you lose that, you never get it back."