State legislators in North Carolina are paid less than $14,000 a year, so some of them trade their experience for more lucrative opportunities as lobbyists.
Not so fast, says a bipartisan bill introduced in the House by Rep. John Faircloth of High Point and others.
It would double the time, from six months to a year, that a lawmaker would have to be out of office before he or she could register as a lobbyist.
This is a positive step for good government, and it immediately drew support from more than 40 House members. In addition to Faircloth, a Republican, co-sponsors include Republican John Blust and Democrat Pricey Harrison, both from Greensboro.
Former legislators, especially those who were influential legislators, can be very valuable to clients that seek favorable treatment by the General Assembly. Lobbyists can use their connections to gain access and catch the ear of former colleagues. They know the issues, the players and what arguments may be most effective with which people.
There’s a risk, however, that while they’re still in office, some could be working on behalf of future clients. That’s a little more likely if the time between public service and a lobbying career is too short.
Some legislators also resign from office so they can begin lobbying in time for the next legislative session. One was Tom Apodaca, a top lieutenant of Senate leader Phil Berger, who gave up his seat in July and registered in January, exactly six months later, as a lobbyist with his own new firm.
Six months seems to be too short a gap between legislative service and lobbying. A full year is better. Many states impose an even longer wait, which seems wiser still.
Faircloth’s bill also imposes a one-year waiting period on other state officials, such as elected Council of State officers and leaders of Cabinet departments appointed by the governor. The same concerns apply to those people, and a one-year gap seems to be a prudent minimum.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring for five years employees who leave an agency from lobbying that same agency. While that is an extensive time, the order doesn’t bar them from lobbying other agencies. Trump’s order also shortened the time before former employees can contact their former agencies from two years to one. This creates an opportunity for unofficial lobbying.
As influence-peddlers, though, lobbyists are only middle men. The big players are special-interest groups that make massive campaign contributions directly to candidates or bankroll independent expenditure organizations. Politicians pay attention to groups that can finance entire campaigns, and some serve those interests rather than the people they’re supposed to represent.
A former legislator who becomes a paid lobbyist, and the special interests that hire him or her, should not have more influence with lawmakers than do ordinary citizens. But, if lobbyists didn’t get results, no one would pay them good money for their work.
Yet, small victories are important. If a legislator must wait for a full year after leaving office before cashing in as a lobbyist, the connection between lawmaking and lobbying might be a little less direct and lucrative.
Unfortunately, this bill has been stuck in the House rules committee for more than a month. Maybe, ironically, special interests are preventing it from advancing.
If legislative salaries were a little higher, perhaps the temptation to trade lawmaking experience for a lobbying payoff would be weaker, but that’s a complicated issue of its own. Many changes are needed to make politicians serve the people first rather than special interests, and lobbying reform is just one.
— from the News & Record of Greensboro.