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Friday, December 16, 2016

Ind. Gov't. - "Through the door, and into the lobby: Ex-lawmakers' cooling-off period too short"

That is the heading to the editorial today in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

It is illegal for anyone who serves in the Indiana legislature to become a registered lobbyist for at least a year after his or her term expires.

That law, though, didn’t stop two legislators from walking through the metaphorical revolving door between public service and private policy work this week.

Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, announced he would not be running for re-election this fall because he wanted to spend more time at home with his family. This week, the Indianapolis-based lobbying firm Corydon Group announced Yoder will be joining the group as vice president in January.

After 12 years of service, Brent Steele, R-Bedford, also retired from the Senate this year. And this week, the Indianapolis Star reported Steele, too, will be starting a new job in January – as executive director of the Vapor Association of Indiana, an organization that will be lobbying against repeal of a bill Steele helped pass that effectively shut many vaping companies out of the Indiana market. During the nearly certain legislative battle next year, the Vapor Association will be speaking for the firms that are allowed to do business in the state.

According to a release from the Corydon Group, “Senator Yoder’sdeep knowledge of the public policy process will serve our clients very well.” The announcement added that “Mr. Yoder will not be providing legislative lobbying services during his one-year ‘cooling off’ period from the Indiana Senate.” And Steele “intends to honor the rule by hiring an outside lobbying firm to represent the association at the General Asembly,” the Star reported.

As long as there are ex-legislators in need of jobs, there will be at least the possibility of a conflict between their years of public service and their new private roles. Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, the situation points to “the weakness in Indiana’s ethics law.”

Though neither former senator will be registered as a lobbyist next year, “clearly, they’ll be using their relationships and connections that they made in state government,” Vaughn said. The law allows legislators to do this as soon as they leave office, Vaughn explains, because it makes a distinction between individuals who register as lobbyists, and “employer-lobbyists.” Thus, Steele can hire and pay others to lobby even though he himself can’t be a registered lobbyist in 2017.

If the legislature really wants to have a meaningful “cooling-off period” before lawmakers walk through the revolving door, it could forbid them from immediately joining firms engaged in lobbying in any capacity. A legislature really serious about preventing the possibility ex-members could quickly trade on the influence they acquired in public service would also set the no-lobbying-related employment period to at least two years. At least 34 states require a cooling-off period, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, and Kentucky and seven other states already have set that period at two years.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 16, 2016 09:02 AM
Posted to Indiana Government