February 20, 2013

Maine bill targets 'revolving door' between legislating, lobbying

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Days after he resigned from the Maine Senate in 2011, David Trahan began lobbying his former colleagues on behalf of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.

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Days after he resigned from the Maine Senate in 2011, David Trahan began lobbying his former colleagues on behalf of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

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Josh Tardy, a former Republican House minority leader, says a bill that seeks to end cozy relationships between legislators and firms that lobby them is "a solution that's looking for a problem." (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Josh Tardy, a former Republican House minority leader, gave up his seat in 2010 because of term limits and soon began lobbying the Legislature for such clients as General Motors and Central Maine Power Co.

And not long after losing his re-election bid for the Maine House in 2010, Benjamin Pratt began lobbying on wind power legislation for Friends of Maine's Mountains.

The "revolving door" between the State House and lobbying offices would be closed by a bill that was heard Wednesday by the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, would impose a one-year waiting period before former lawmakers could go into lobbying.

Crockett said the bill is aimed at good governance and not motivated by any individual.

"We run the risk of suggesting impropriety on the part of what could be an entirely harmless situation by digressing now into specific instances," he said. "It is more important to keep this bill pointed to the loftier and nobler goals of giving citizens greater confidence in their government by avoiding even the look of impropriety in future Legislatures."

But Tardy, who did not testify at Wednesday's hearing, said in an interview that the bill is "a solution that's looking for a problem."

Trahan, who also didn't testify, said in an interview that he would be uncomfortable excluding some people from lobbying without evidence that they have done wrong.

"I think we should look at a person's honesty, integrity and ability to work with people. That, to me, matters more than waiting periods," said Trahan, who will lobby lawmakers as they consider a bill to shield previously public records on holders of concealed-weapon permits.

An amendment to Crockett's bill would authorize the state ethics commission, which administers the state's lobbyist disclosure law, to oversee the one-year prohibition on lobbying and empower the commission to assess $1,000 fines for any violations.

Maine law now defines a lobbyist as anyone who is compensated for influencing legislation and spends at least eight hours a month doing so.

In a memo to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the ethics commission, said "we see no problems administering the proposed restriction."

Maine is one of 15 states that have no revolving-door laws for legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Most states have one- or two-year periods during which former lawmakers are barred from lobbying.

Crockett noted that Maine got an "F" grade last year from the State Integrity Investigation, which calls itself "a data-driven analysis of state government transparency and ethics."

The analysis contended that Maine is the fifth-most susceptible state to corruption, based on what the study's authors described as lax legislative accountability and poor lobbying disclosure.

Tardy said he rejects any suggestion that Maine legislative and lobbying ethics are low.

"We're all very well regulated," he said. "It just seems to me that this bill, with all due respect to what this Legislature does with it, is a solution that's looking for a problem."

But in testimony supporting the bill, Ann Luther, advocacy director for the League of Women Voters, said even the appearance of favoritism is reason to impose a waiting period.

Crockett suggested in his testimony that the prospect of moving directly into lobbying could influence some lawmakers' positions on bills before they leave office.

"As the old saying goes, the look of impropriety is considered impropriety itself," Crockett said.

Tardy and Trahan took issue with that characterization.

"What you're assuming there is there's a quid pro quo between legislators," Trahan said. "Being effective doesn't necessarily mean you have some dishonest activity that's going on."

Tardy said he regards his legislative service as the best job he ever had -- even though it entailed long hours with relatively little compensation.

"I don't think people run for the Legislature to set themselves up for a career after the Legislature; I think they run for the Legislature because they're interested in public service," he said.

Crockett's proposal comes two years after the Legislature rejected a more sweeping ethics bill, which included a one-year waiting period before lawmakers could go into lobbying.

Republicans, who then controlled the Legislature, defeated the proposal on party-line votes in the Senate and House.

Crockett said Wednesday that he opposed that bill because it was too broad, but he supported the waiting-period provision.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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Today's poll: Lobbying rule

Should lawmakers have a one-year waiting period before becoming a lobbyist?

Yes

No

View Results