Candidates take aim at lobbying cooling off period

St. Louis Post-Dispatch / July 5, 2016 /

A hard-fought battle to impose restrictions on lawmakers who want to leap into the potentially lucrative world of lobbying may not be over.

As part of a push to polish the tarnished image of Jefferson City this spring, Missouri lawmakers approved a six-month waiting period before members of the House and Senate could register as lobbyists.

The proposal, which was quickly signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, came after the Senate in 2015 had sought a two-year cooling-off period. The House also had earlier approved a one-year wait. But the six-month time period was negotiated in a committee.

Heading into the 2016 election cycle, all four Republican candidates for governor, as well as the presumptive Democratic nominee, say six months is not enough, raising the possibility that the debate over waiting periods isn’t over.

Of the four Republican candidates seeking to take over for Nixon, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens has the most restrictive proposal designed to address the idea that a member of the Legislature could be writing laws one day and lobbying on behalf of those changes the next.

Greitens wants to match up the waiting period with the length of service of a lawmaker. A lawmaker who serves eight years in the House, for example, would have to wait eight years to become a lobbyist.

“When I’m Governor, we’ll end the culture of cashing in with a simple rule: For every year you serve in office, you have to wait a year before you can do paid lobbying in Missouri,” Greitens said in a statement posted on his campaign website.

Greitens also wants legislation that would ban statewide officeholders from ever engaging in lobbying once they leave office.

Political scientist John Messmer, who teaches at St. Louis Community College at Meramec, said Greitens’ proposal was unrealistic at a time when the GOP-led Legislature had been loath to impose any restrictions on campaign contributions, lobbyist gifts or a revolving door ban.

“It’s probably not going anywhere,” Messmer said.

Messmer said the chance to make money as a lobbyist was something that should be considered as a gift to lawmakers.

“Make no mistake of it, the legislators like this perk. These are gifts that are in the future,” Messmer said. “These are incredibly lucrative gifts. It is a gift that should bother us.”

Catherine Hanaway, a former speaker of the House, said the current ban also didn’t go far enough and pledged to extend it if she was elected governor.

“The six-month revolving door legislation only pays lip service to ethics reform. As governor, I will pass real ethics reforms including a revolving door ban of at least four years or more and banning all lobbyist gifts,” Hanaway said in a prepared statement.

Lieutenant Gov. Peter Kinder, who presided over some of the debate this spring concerning the ethics revisions, also wants a longer gap between being a member of the Legislature and joining the corps of lobbyists patrolling the Capitol hallways.

“The Lt. Governor’s stated position on ethics reform is that there should be a two-year cooling off period before legislators can become lobbyists,” Kinder spokeswoman Pam Dixon said.

Businessman John Brunner agrees with his Republican opponents but didn’t offer up a specific length of time that he favors.

“Mr. Brunner does not believe the revolving door ban recently approved goes far enough,” spokesman Mike Hafner said.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Chris Koster, the party’s presumptive nominee, also suggested that the current law needed to be upgraded.

“Attorney General Koster supports this first step and believes a longer cooling off period will help remove the appearance of impropriety and help to restore the public’s faith in its government,” spokesman Andrew Whalen said.

Messmer said voters should call for a lengthier cooling-off period to ensure lawmakers aren’t cashing in on their public experience.

“Obviously, the more restrictive it is, the less corrupting it is,” he said.