Legislators shouldn’t be allowed to be hired as lobbyists as soon as their term in office is over, the head of a nonpartisan citizens’ watchdog group says.
"There should be at least some sort of a waiting period, it’s the old revolving door issue,” said Lynn Howell, chairman of Common Cause Oklahoma. "We think there should be a waiting period of two to three years after the legislator has left the Legislature before he or she could become a lobbyist.”
In Oklahoma, lawmakers can accept a job as a lobbyist as soon as their legislative term expires.
Thirty-two former lawmakers and one former state elected official were registered with the state Ethics Commission as of Feb. 1, the first day of the legislative session. Several of them in recent years became lobbyists within a year of leaving the Legislature. There are an estimated 385 lobbyists who work on issues on behalf of companies or groups at the state Capitol.
Howell said he would like to see Oklahoma adopt a measure similar to a federal law that requires those who served in Congress to wait two years after completing their terms to become lobbyists.
"Legislators can use the contacts they have that the ordinary person doesn’t have, that the ordinary lobbyist doesn’t have,” Howell said.
"Also, a legislator could be part of a quid-pro-quo deal conceivably where a legislator does a favor for some entity while serving and then the returned payment for that favor is a cushy, high-paid job as a lobbyist after the legislator leaves.”
Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said legislators would have to pass a measure that would establish a waiting period for former lawmakers to become lobbyists.
Lobbyists are to register annually by Dec. 31 with the Ethics Commission or within five days after engaging in lobbying activities.
Lobbyists also file reports showing what things of value — mostly gifts, meals and tickets to sporting events and concerts — they give to lawmakers, elected officials and state employees.
Rep. John Trebilcock has tried at least three times to get a measure passed that would require some time to pass before retiring lawmakers could be hired as lobbyists.
The measures, introduced when Democrats and then Republicans were in control of the House, never advanced.
"I was always concerned with the perception that in the last term of a legislator that they would be more interested in lining up what they’re going to do next as opposed to working for the people,” said Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow. "It’s just a perception that could be removed by a cooling-off period.”
Several former lawmakers who are now lobbyists don’t think a cooling-off period would matter.