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. Kenneth Nance, who has been roaming the Capitol halls for nearly 25 years as a lobbyist, said requiring lawmakers to wait a couple of years before they could be hired as lobbyists probably wouldn’t have much effect, he said. "A lot of legislators are coming back after staying out for only a year or two,” said Nance, who served as a House member from Oklahoma City from 1968-78. "I never like to complain about competition. Obviously I’d like to have the monopoly on it, but that’s not good for the system.” Some lobbyists have said competition has increased as lawmakers, fresh from their term in office, return to the rotunda to lobby. Doug Miller, who served as a House member from Norman from 1994-2006, said he didn’t wait to come back to the Capitol and work as a lobbyist. Miller, who returned as a lobbyist within two years after he couldn’t seek re-election because of 12-year legislative term limits, said maintaining relationships with lawmakers helps him lobby, but that might not work for all lawmakers. "It really depends on how partisan of a member you were,” he said. "If you were really partisan, it could negatively affect your ability to lobby with all members.” Miller said a "cooling off” period likely wouldn’t have much effect on lobbying at the Capitol. "I don’t think it would make a difference,” he said. "We already have a prohibition now that a lawmaker cannot go straight to work for a state entity, but there are tons of ex-legislators that go to work for some function of government. They just can’t be paid with state dollars. They can be paid with federal dollars. There’s always a way to work around those things and the letter of the law is not really adhered to on that.” Phil Ostrander, who served as a House member from Collinsville from 1996-2000, has a different opinion about the situation. He said he had opportunities to lobby immediately after he lost his 2000 re-election bid, but chose against it. "After I lost that election I thought it was time to refocus my life,” Ostrander said. "I made a conscious effort to sit out. I think that’s appropriate.” Ron Peterson, who served as a House member from Broken Arrow from 2000-08 and took a lobbyist job shortly after his term expired, said lobbying is a natural progression for a lawmaker. "You spend a number of years here, you learn how everything works,” he said. "It’s a valuable skill set and over time you build relationships. It’s just the natural outflow of your service that makes it available. It makes you a valuable commodity out there.”
• Glenn English (U.S. House, 1975-1994); English is CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and a registered lobbyist for the organization.
• Bill Brewster (U.S. House, 1991-97); numerous clients, including the American Gas Association, the City of Glenpool, Eli Lilly and Company, Oklahoma State University.
• J.C. Watts (U.S. House, 1995-2003); numerous clients, including AT&T, Bowl Championship Series, City of Fort Smith.
• Steve Largent (U.S. House, 1994-2002); Largent is president and CEO of CITA-The Wireless Association and a registered lobbyist for the organization.
• Don Nickles (U.S. Senate, 1981-2005); numerous clients, including American Dental Association, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Comcast, Monsanto.