April 5, 2013

Maine panel endorses wait of one year to lobby

The legislation would affect lawmakers and top appointed officials. More financial disclosure is urged.

By NAOMI SCHALIT and JOHN CHRISTIE Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

State legislators and top appointed officials won't be able to take jobs as lobbyists right after they leave the State House, under a bill endorsed unanimously by a legislative committee on Friday.

That was one provision among several ethics reform measures passed by the Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

The committee also voted unanimously in support of bills significantly increasing financial disclosure for legislators and government officials. But it killed a bill that would have prevented executive branch officials from taking jobs in the industries they regulated.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and the sponsor of one of the bills, said there's a limit to how far legislators can go.

"We are taking seriously the need to ensure the perception and reality of credibility and integrity in the Legislature and the executive branch," she said. "I think we need to be thoughtful about doing this, and there's only so many bills that will actually pass."

The first measure endorsed by the committee was a bipartisan bill proposed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic Sen. Emily Cain of Orono. That bill has four major provisions:

Ownership interests of 5 percent or more held by lawmakers, executive branch officials or their immediate family members in businesses must be disclosed. Current law requires disclosure only if a majority share is owned.

Lawmakers or executive branch officials must disclose if they are in a responsible position in a political party, a political action committee or a ballot question committee. Current law requires disclosure only if the lawmaker or executive branch official is a responsible officer in a PAC or ballot question committee.

The Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices must adopt rules that require legislators and high-level executive branch employees to report income of $2,000 or more in ranges that will be determined by the commission. Current law requires that only the source of the income be reported, not the amount or range.

Legislators and executive employees are required to file their disclosure statements electronically and those statements must be available immediately on a publicly accessible website. Current law allows those disclosure statements to be handwritten, and an electronic image of the statement is posted on the ethics commission website.

Rep. Michael Beaulieu, R-Auburn, a member of the committee, initially balked at the requirement to disclose income, even if it's only listed in a range of amounts.

"I never understood why anyone would have a need for that kind of information," said Beaulieu.

Jonathan Wayne, head of the state's ethics commission, told Beaulieu that providing the public with more precise information about a legislator's income was a way to prevent financial interests from influencing a lawmaker's decisions.

The disclosure was proposed "so the public has a sense of what are the influences that a particular member is under," said Wayne. "When you have the amount, you have the sense of how much an individual can be influenced."

Two measures to close the "revolving door" were then considered. The first, to prevent legislators from lobbying for one year after their term ends, was quickly approved.

The second bill, L.D. 859, sponsored by Russell, passed only after Russell modified or stripped three controversial provisions. One would have expanded the definition of lobbying to include those who try to influence regulatory, not just legislative, actions; another would have prevented executive branch officials from lobbying for five years after government service; the third would have barred hiring lobbyists directly into high-level executive branch jobs.

(Continued on page 2)

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