Close the Revolving Door on Legislators-Turned-Lobbyists

While the shenanigans of former U.S. Representative-turned-pharmaceutical lobbyist Billy Tauzin and other legislators-turned-lobbyists make national headlines, the abuse of power in the states often receive scant attention.  A recent decision by the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio reminds us that the revolving door among legislators-turned-lobbyists is as much a problem in the states as we hear about at the federal level.  And in Ohio, the problem isn’t going away.  Just this month, an Ohio court ruling has struck down the state’s revolving-door laws, which required a one-year cooling period for elected officials and their staff to wait-out before accepting jobs where their political influence would be in play.  The court based its ruling on the fact that the state had not established a link to corruption and “even cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban on corporate contributions in federal elections, saying the high court's reasoning ”˜refutes the premise (that Ohio's revolving-door law) is necessary to prevent former General Assembly members from having special access to the legislative process.’”

In light of these court decisions and the lack of ethics standards, states continue to grapple with the issue -- facing a range of consequences along the way.  Without meaningful reform, many elected officials and their staff will continue to exploit public service and the connections that come with it for personal gain. And industries continue to exploit through greed, buying connections through lucrative salaries — often times negotiated before the legislator’s term has ended.

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, 19 states currently have a one-year cooling period and at least eight states have a two-year cooling period.  And this year alone, at least 29 states have new legislation to tighten the rules on business and ethics.  In fact, StateNet analysts report identifying more than 3,000 bills on this issue since the start of the year.

Among other remedies, legislators should implement ethics reform similar to that proposed by Common Cause and allies:

  • Prohibit elected officials from gaining undue lobbying access by increasing the “cooling off” period from one to two years before they can lobby their respective legislature.
  • Prohibit high level executive staff and other very senior executive personnel from lobbying the department or agency in which they worked for two years after they leave their position.
  • Prohibit legislative staff and officers from lobbying contacts with the entire legislative body for one year, instead of just their former employing office.
  • When appropriate, require that executive and legislative branch employees who leave government positions and seek to lobby on behalf of Indian tribes face the same revolving door provisions as others, with an exemption for those who serve as elected or appointed officials of Indian tribes.

NCSL Table
: "Revolving Door" Prohibitions Against Legislators Lobbying State Government After They Leave Office  
NCSL Revolving Door Laws - Eye on Ethics
The Center for Public Integrity: State lobby rules
Common Cause - Ethics in Government
Stateline - Lobbyists Spend Big On Statehouses, Study Says 
Progressive States Network - Close the Revolving Door