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Best of friends: Baltimore mayor, chemical lobbyist

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The American Chemistry Council’s influence is so deeply entwined with local and state government, it sometimes feels like a marriage. Sometimes, it is.

In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is so close to ACC lobbyist Lisa Harris Jones, the city leader officiated at Jones’ Nevada wedding to a partnering lobbyist. The Harris Jones & Malone law firm doesn’t shy from such connections — it boasts about them. ”Power Couple’s Vegas Nuptials Draw Host of MD Political Notables,” said a May headline formerly linked on the firm’s website.

Another link cited a report listing Jones as the 3rd top earning lobbyist in Maryland in a recent six month period, with $864,625 in compensation.

The website lists political fundraisers and spells out the firm’s long list of corporate clients, including the ACC. The links between mayor and lobbyist have drawn attention in local media, including the Baltimore Brew website. Another account detailed how the mayor visited the lobbyist’s Rehoboth Beach getaway.

There’s also scrutiny of how the ACC lobbyist helped beat back city reform. In June, Jones helped the ACC delay a proposed bill that would have made Baltimore the first East Coast city to ban foam cups and containers for carryout food. The ACC testified against the ban, which was postponed the same day Jones lobbied against it in City Hall.

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Mayor Rawlings-Blake did not respond to four interview requests made with her office by the Center for Public Integrity.

Reached for comment, Jones asked the Center for questions in writing. She did not respond to written questions about the ACC’s Baltimore bill opposition or her ties to the mayor.

The closeness between mayor and lobbyist raises significant questions, ethics advocates say.

"The most striking thing is, it’s not just a lobbyist. It’s a lobbyist who represents maybe 40 to 50 percent of the lobbying business in the city," said James Browning, Regional Director for State Operations for Common Cause. "The worrying thing is you have no way of knowing if that agenda is checked at the door when they are on vacation or doing these other things together."