February 21, 2013

Bill would slow lawmakers' transition to lobbyists post-term

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

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

click image to enlarge

Josh Tardy

Contributed photo

David Trahan is the new executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine.

Staff photo by Gabe Souza

Josh Tardy, a former Republican House minority leader, was termed out of his seat in 2010 and soon began lobbying the Legislature for such clients as General Motors and Central Maine Power Co.

And not long after losing a re-election bid to the Maine House in 2010, Benjamin Pratt began lobbying about wind power legislation for Friends of Maine Mountains.

The so-called "revolving door" between the State House and lobbying offices would be closed under 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 was not motivated by the actions of a specific person.

"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."

However, Tardy, who did not testify at the hearing, said in an interview that the bill was "a solution that's looking for a problem." Trahan, who also didn't testify, said in an interview that he'd be uncomfortable excluding some from lobbying without evidence that they've 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 that would protect information on concealed weapons permit holders.

An amendment to Crockett's bill would authorize the Maine Ethics Commission, an independent agency that administers the state's lobbyist disclosure law, to oversee the one-year prohibition on lobbying and empower the agency to assess a $1,000 fine for any violations. Existing law 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 committee Wednesday, Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the Maine Ethics Commission, said "we see no problems administering the proposed restriction."

Maine is one of 15 states that have no revolving-door law for legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of the other states have one- or two-year periods during which former lawmakers are barred from lobbying.

Crockett noted that Maine was given 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, prepared by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit organization, contended that Maine is the fifth-most-susceptible to corruption among the 50 states, 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."

In testimony supporting the bill, Ann Luther, advocacy director for the League of Women Voters, said even the appearance of favoritism is reason enough 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 many 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 that included a one-year waiting period before lawmakers could go into lobbying. Republicans, who controlled the Legislature then, defeated the proposal on party-line votes in the Senate and the House, accepting an ought-not-to-pass recommendation out of committee.

Crockett said Wednesday he opposed the 2011 bill because it was too broad, but he supported the waiting-period provision.

Michael Shepherd -- 370-7652
mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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