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Government officials should have waiting period to become lobbyists E-mail
Opinion
Thursday, 08 February 2018 08:40


A SECOND OPINION, The Topeka Capital-Journal



A waiting period for legislators to become lobbyists is a logical step in any ongoing movement to incorporate more transparency into state government.

Politicians already have difficulty gaining the trust of constituents. Too many citizens take a dim view of what happens after votes are cast and lawmakers take office, particularly given the influence of special interest groups.

A bill called the Kansas Integrity in Government Act stipulates that lawmakers wait one year before an elected or appointed official can lobby the same people they worked alongside in state government. By imposing that waiting period, the appearance of any chummy deal-making with a friendly representative, statewide office holder or government official is halted for a reasonably short time frame.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who is running for governor, argued before the House Elections Committee that the bill would impose a “cooling off period” so legislators would not gain immediate in-roads as a lobbyist from associations made with others they serve alongside in chambers and committees.

The bill would also prevent such officials as the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, commissioner of insurance, Cabinet secretaries and high-ranking staff or appointed officials from working as paid lobbyists for one year after leaving office.

David Kensinger left his position as chief of staff for former Gov. Sam Brownback in April 2012 and returned to the lobbying firm he founded in 2004. Kensinger became involved as a chief lobbyist for CoreCivic, a private prison operator that was recently designated to build a new prison at the Lansing Correctional Facility as part of a lease-to-own agreement costing $362 million over a span of 20 years.

A chief of staff for former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius also registered as a lobbyist within a year after leaving a prominent position in state government. Troy Findley served as lieutenant governor for Mark Parkinson, who was elevated to governor after Sebelius vacated her position as governor for a Cabinet position under former President Barack Obama.

In addition, lawmakers have also made direct moves to become lobbyists immediately after leaving state office.

Opponents of the bill contend the legislation unfairly limits employment opportunities for legislators who may have given up a previous job back home, or curtailed work, in order to serve as elected officials.

The proposed limitation, however, is for just one year and only prevents paid lobbying services. State officials and lawmakers can still begin employment with organizations that lobby state government.

One year is not going to flush away any networking a former legislator achieved that can help in a position as a lobbyist. Nor will that year off hamper their ability to gain a job as a lobbyist. The bill even presents an opportunity for those who leave office to lobby immediately if they are not paid for their services.

The prospect of any immediate personal gain from holding a state office, however, is at least reduced.

“I don’t think we should have people coming to this building or going to work for the administration with the idea that they’re going to cash in on that position in a later life,” said Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat.

States with term limits often see an even greater likelihood of lawmakers becoming lobbyists. Opportunities to capitalize on connections made while serving in office are seen as a platform toward future employment when worries mount regarding career paths.

While Kansas lacks term limits for senators and representatives in the Statehouse, it needs to stop any perception that a “revolving door” exists for legislators to become lobbyists. A one-year wait should apply to them, as well as politicians holding state office and high-ranking staff.

No fewer than 41 states have imposed regulations on lobbying after state service and 26 require a one-year ban, while 10 demand a two-year limitation. A one-year wait for Kansas officials to cool off before becoming paid lobbyists should be adopted.


 

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