Bill would place limits on lawmakers-turned-lobbyists
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Nov 01, 2013 | 3289 views |  0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In this file photo, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, debates Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, during regular legislative session at the State House in Montgomery. (Photo: AL.com, Julie Bennett/The Associated Press)
In this file photo, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, debates Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, during regular legislative session at the State House in Montgomery. (Photo: AL.com, Julie Bennett/The Associated Press)
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MONTGOMERY – Concerned about a spate of early resignations by Alabama lawmakers, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is proposing a "cooling off" period for legislators seeking jobs as lobbyists.

"People need to realize that they have to fulfill their commitment to their constituents," Marsh said.

Marsh pre-filed a bill this week that would ban lawmakers from lobbying either house of the Alabama Legislature for two years after leaving office. He first announced his intent to file the bill late this summer, following the resignations of three Alabama lawmakers who hadn't yet completed their terms.

Former Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, announced in September that he had accepted a job as director of the Alabama Association of Realtors. Former Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, resigned in July and later announced that he would lead the Business and Education Alliance, an education reform group affiliated with the Business Council of Alabama. Former Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, left the House in August to join the Kinney Capitol Group, a Montgomery lobbying firm.

Technically, Alabama law already prohibits elected officials from lobbying the body they're a member of until two years after they leave office. Under that law, however, the House and the Senate are considered separate legislative bodies – meaning that former House members can lobby the Senate, and vice versa, the instant they leave office. Marsh's bill would ban lobbying in either house for two years.

Marsh said the bill is primarily intended to curb early departures. All three of the resignations this summer took Republican legislative leaders by surprise, he said.

"It's not personal," he said of his bill. "I think there's something that needs to be corrected."

The lawmaker-turned-lobbyist move has become increasingly common at the federal level, said Craig Holman, a spokesman for the Washington D.C. consumer rights group Public Citizen. Of the members of Congress who've left office since 1996, he said, 43 percent became lobbyists. In the 1970s, by Public Citizen's count, somewhere between 3 percent and 8 percent of ex-lawmakers were lobbyists.

Holman said he expects that trend to show up in state legislatures soon, if it hasn't already.

"In states where there's a lot of money in politics, and that's most states now, you're going to see an increase in the revolving door," Holman said.

Marsh said he doesn't have a problem, in most cases, with lawmakers becoming lobbyists after their departure from elected office – but he does have a problem with lawmakers leaving office early. Asked if early departures are a growing trend, Marsh said he couldn't recall many lawmakers leaving office early for lobbying jobs in past sessions.

"I don't know if it's a trend everywhere, but it seems to be a trend in Alabama this year," he said.

The 2014 elections are a year away. In 2009, the year before the last House and Senate elections, six seats in the Legislature were vacated – two by lawmakers convicted of crimes, one by the death of a lawmaker, and three by legislators who were elected to higher office. None left for lobbying positions.

Peggy Kerns, director of the Center for Ethics in Government at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said there may be a trend toward lawmakers leaving early – but it happens mostly in states with term limits or with low pay for lawmakers. In those states, she said, officials nearing the end of their terms are less likely to wait for the end of a term before starting a job hunt.

Alabama doesn't have term limits, and some members of the Legislature have served, off and on, since the 1970s. Alabama lawmakers' pay is currently tied to the state's median household income, which is about $43,000.

Kerns said there is a trend toward states adding a "cooling off" period for lawmakers planning to make the switch.

At least 31 states have laws with waiting periods ranging from 6 months to 2 years. Kerns counted Alabama among the states with a two-year ban; she said she was unaware that the law allowed former senators to lobby the House and former House members to lobby the Senate.

Kerns, herself a former Colorado legislator, said one advantage of a "cooling off" period is that it removes any suspicion that a legislator might have been interviewing for a lobbying job while voting on legislation.

"It does eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest," she said.

The bill has support from one seemingly unlikely proponent – Barry Mask, the former lawmaker who now runs the Alabama Association of Realtors.

"I think it's a good idea," he said.

Mask said that even if the two-year ban were already in place, it likely wouldn't apply to his situation. As director of the realtors’ association, he said, he isn't necessarily a lobbyist.

"I've got a contract lobbyist and a legislative director," he said.

Mask said he made the move to the association because he'd worked there before, because managing associations of this sort was his field of expertise, and because he's in his 50s and needed to start thinking about retirement.

While people think of legislators as powerful, Mask said, it's difficult work that wears people down.

"Being in the Legislature is a grind, particularly if you're chairing a committee," he said. "It will consume your whole life."

Marsh’s bill won’t come before the Legislature until the 2014 session, which begins in January.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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