It’s customary for members of the General Assembly to invite lobbyists to their political fundraisers. Not only might the lobbyists themselves contribute to the lawmakers’ campaigns, but their clients might choose to donate, too (though lobbyists are forbidden from soliciting them on behalf of political campaigns).
Fairly or not, this custom helps to perpetuate the idea that there’s a “pay-to-play” culture in Annapolis.
Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) seemed prepared to take this approach to a different level. In early versions of the invitation for his virtual fundraiser on June 15, with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) as the featured guest, Simonaire had a precise price point in mind that he was asking lobbyists to pay if they wanted to attend: $1,000.
That was the same ticket price he was asking political action committees to pay; local business owners and Anne Arundel County residents were being asked to pay $500 per ticket, while sponsorships for the event ran from $1,500 to $6,000.
Simonaire told Maryland Matters on Wednesday the ticket prices for each specific group were set by his new fundraising consultant — though he conceded that he signed off on them. But later in the day, he called back to say updated versions of the invitation would simply ask “guests” who weren’t Anne Arundel residents or local business owners to pay $1,000 for a ticket.
Simonaire said he’s seen the “pay to play” culture at work in state and local politics and that it’s anathema to him.
“There’s never been that with me,” he said. “My slogan — which is not really a slogan, because I believe it and practice it — is restoring the voice of the people to the political process.”
Simonaire said he realizes that lobbyists come in all stripes — from those who earn seven-figure incomes to those who represent low-budget nonprofit groups. He said the June event with Hogan won’t be his only fundraiser of the year, and observed that lobbyists are welcome to come to others and pay a lower-dollar amount. He added that his chief interest in setting ticket prices for this coming event was to make sure that small business owners could afford to attend.
Meanwhile, Simonaire, who took over as minority leader last fall, said he was disappointed by the news this week that Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) plans to leave the Senate at the end of next year and seek to become Frederick County executive instead.
“We’re going to miss him,” he said. “Our loss is Frederick’s gain.”
Simonaire described Hough as a skillful lawmaker who is “well-respected on both sides of the aisle.” He said that until the two were elevated into leadership last year he didn’t know Hough all that well, but has come to regard him as a valuable partner and good friend.
“I think we made a great team, working together,” he said.
Simonaire indicated that it’s likely Hough will remain in the whip spot for the remainder of his term, but said that could change, depending on what Hough wants to do and the will of the 15-member GOP caucus.
“I think he wants to stay and I think the caucus would like him to,” Simonaire said.