In Annapolis, it can pay to have worked for Mike Miller.
No fewer than five members of the capital lobbying corps are former aides to the long-serving Senate president, including two perennial top earners and another who just successfully pushed for the repeal of Maryland's computer services tax.
The governor's top lobbyist in the legislature also once worked for Miller, as did the chief lobbyist for Montgomery County. So, too, did two other members of the General Assembly and one of the state's top health-care officials.
His alumni club is testament to both the tutelage and longevity of Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). But it is also a reflection of how Annapolis works.
In Maryland's capital, a noticeable number of senior legislative staff members parlay their work behind the scenes into higher-paying positions of influence. And Miller readily acknowledges that in the heat of a legislative battle, those ties can provide an advantage to his former aides and the clients they are paid to represent.
"They're my close personal friends," Miller, who has presided over the Senate for more than two decades, said in an interview. "They've never stopped working for me, and I've never stopped helping them. It means they have access to me always. They know not to abuse that friendship. They know there's a line they can't cross. But I've never turned any of them away."
Having access to Miller hardly guarantees passage of a bill. But lawmakers and lobbyists interviewed for this story suggest that relationships with legislative leaders can make a difference, particularly on lower-profile legislation that is of primary importance to a particular client.
For example, one high-ranking senator said a bill that extended a deadline for companies to comply with Maryland's upcoming ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergents passed in the recent session in large part because Procter & Gamble hired a former chief of staff of Miller's as a lobbyist. The bill's sponsor said that had nothing to do with its passage.
Sean Dobson, executive director of Progressive Maryland, said public-interest groups such as his can be at a disadvantage compared with business interests trying to make their presence felt in Annapolis.
"There are a number of ways to try to influence top lawmakers," Dobson said. "Unfortunately, two of them -- campaign contributions and hiring a lawmaker's friends as your lobbyist -- both cost a lot of money."
The phenomenon is not unique to Miller or Annapolis.
On Capitol Hill, it is common for legislative staffers to take higher-paying jobs as lobbyists after toiling for years at government wages.
In Annapolis, the campus of redbrick buildings that includes the 228-year-old State House is virtually a world unto itself. Senior staffers operate on a first-name basis with much of the 188-member General Assembly, and discussion of the Byzantine process by which a bill becomes a law is all but a second language.
"A lot of people never leave," said Donald Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "They become highly marketable, but within a narrow range of organizations."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has lost only one aide thus far to the lobbying profession in the nearly six years since he ascended to his post. His former chief of staff, Tom Lewis, is now a lobbyist for Johns Hopkins University.
Several erstwhile lawmakers, including former House speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany), who lost his reelection bid in 2002, are also now paid to influence their one-time colleagues.
Several aides from earlier in Miller's career have built lucrative lobbying practices.
John R. Stierhoff, who was his chief of staff when Miller became Senate president in 1987, reported $781,902 in compensation for lobbying on behalf of a wide range of clients, including several large corporations, during the year ending in October.
Another former aide, Gerard E. Evans, reported $631,000 during the same period. Evans served as a legislative assistant in the early 1980s, when Miller chaired the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The launch of his lobbying career coincided with Miller taking office as Senate president.
"In how you craft your message and present your message, you're bound to have a leg up with him," Evans said of his former boss. "But Mike is more than happy to tell you to go to hell, too."
The impact of hiring a former Miller aide to lobby a bill can be difficult to measure in some cases.
But several lawmakers pointed to the bill that extended the deadline for complying with Maryland's ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergents. The ban, set to take effect in 2010, had been pushed last year as an environmentally friendly measure that would help curb algae blooms in the ailing Chesapeake Bay.