Some legislators try again to block lobbying revolving doorby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
At least 40 former lawmakers, a former governor and several former state commissioners are now walking the halls of the Capitol as lobbyists. Five of them left state service in the past year, either through retirement or a defeat at the ballot box. The quick switch from government service to lobbying worries some current lawmakers. They are calling for some brakes on the so-called revolving door.
St. Paul, Minn. — Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, and Rep. Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, are typically on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. But the two do agree that lawmakers shouldn't finish their terms and then quickly take a job lobbying their former colleagues. Sviggum wants to prohibit lawmakers from lobbying for one year after they leave office. He says that will end a perception that lawmakers and lobbyists are too cozy during the legislative session.
"It's a perception that I think is wrong but it's a perception that I think we have to address. And then there's the reality. The reality is we ought to be here as a service to do our job. Not here as a job interview. An interview for becoming a lobbyist or something like that," Sviggum said.
Sviggum is one of six lawmakers pushing for some sort of waiting period before a departing lawmaker can become a lobbyist. Marty's bill goes even further. His plan forbids lawmakers, former constitutional officers and commissioners from becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave state service. The ban would also apply to assistant commissioners and the heads of state agencies. Marty says he's concerned that some may be taking advantage of insider knowledge and the friendships formed during their public service.
"It's not the healthiest way for us to make our decisions because there are friendships there," he said. "People who are your former colleagues become friends and they have a little more sway with you than somebody else does and I don't think that serves the people of Minnesota well."
The ranks of lobbyists include three former Senate majority leaders and powerful committee chairs. Those legislators enjoyed considerable power and loyalty from colleagues in their years as lawmakers.
Roger Moe and Dean Johnson both served as Senate Majority Leader. Moe has several clients including the Mall of America and 3M.
Johnson is lobbying for clients including Northwest Airlines and Minnesota Public Radio. Moe could not be reached for comment. Johnson declined to comment.
Former DFL Sen. Sharon Marko is also lobbying on behalf of 3M. She said she didn't think her new job was a big deal. She added that 3M hired her because she had state and local government experience.
Kevin Goodno, a former lawmaker and commissioner of human services, says he doesn't see a need for the new law. Goodno left his post as human services commissioner last year to become a lobbyist for the law firm of Frederickson and Byron. He says he might have reconsidered his job as commissioner if there had been a revolving door law in effect. Goodno says that kind of restriction could deter highly qualified people from running for office or taking a job in state government. He also says there is no clear advantage for lawmakers turned lobbyists.
"People just don't come to you because you're a former legislator," he said. "Quite frankly, legislators aren't going to vote for your bill just because they know you. You might be able to talk to them because they know you but you still have to convince them about the merits of the bill. I don't think there's as serious an issue with this as what people may think."
Twenty-six states currently have some sort of law that prevents lawmakers and others from becoming lobbyists right away.
There have also been complaints that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is filling administration jobs with GOP lawmakers who lost their re-election bids.
Five Republicans who were turned away at the polls during the last two election cycles now have jobs as commissioners or assistant commissioners. They include former state auditor Pat Anderson, former representative Tim Wilkin of Eagan and former representative Karen Klinzing of Woodbury.
DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich of Chisholm says some of those who called for limited government are now making double what they were as a lawmaker, courtesy of state taxpayers.
"The best way to beef up your pay around here at the Capitol is to lose an election and then be appointed deputy or assistant commissioner in the Pawlenty administration. It seems like a trend that I've seen in recent years," Sertich said.
Sertich said his caucus may trim the state government budget bill with the goal of reducing the number of commissioners.
Gov. Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, said former legislators have a particular area of expertise that is helpful to state government.
"Sometimes DFL legislators make the broad complaint about legislators going on to work in a state agency. But I would challenge them to find one who isn't doing a great job or who's work in the Legislature didn't help prepare them for time in a state agency," the spokesman said.
McClung also says the state has a payroll of 35,000 people. He says the number of former lawmakers working in state government is a tiny fraction of the total.
- Morning Edition, 03/20/2007, 7:54 a.m.