Tag Archives: lobbyists

Wanting a reform of rules governing legislators becoming lobbyists

While working on a blog entry I happened to call the office of Texas state Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo to ask whether the state had clamped down on legislators who seek to become lobbyists.

The answer I got was “no.” The state had not reformed what is commonly called the “revolving door policy” that allows state legislators to become lobbyists for the special interest group of their choice.

In short, someone can walk away from the Legislature and walk directly into a high-paying job as a registered lobbyist.

That rule has to change. It is one of the items I am going to place on my wish list for the 2021 Texas Legislature to enact.

State legislators have built-in access to their former colleagues when they walk away from their public service careers. My memory of legislators with whom I am familiar who then went to work on behalf of special interests is lengthy.

The most notable example is former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center. The Democrat left the Legislature after being muscled out of the speaker’s chair and became an instantaneous lobbyist/big hitter. And who was surprised at that? No one. Laney had a lot of political allies and personal friends on both sides of the aisle. He has been able to parlay those friendships into a healthy post-Legislature career.

Former Republican state Rep. David Swinford is another one. The Dumas lawmaker left the Legislature after the 2009 session and went to work pitching wind farms to his former legislative colleagues.

The rolls are full of those kinds of examples. I harbor no particular ill will toward lobbyists as a general rule; only those who represent special interests that I find repugnant.

Still, the instantaneous advantage former legislators have when they leave elected office and go to work for special interests puts them at a decided advantage over their competitors.

Why not level the field a bit by mandating, say, a two- or three-year waiting period before former legislators can sign up as lobbyists? Is that such a hard task to accomplish? It doesn’t seem so to me.

Ted Cruz joins forces with AOC? What the … ?

As my dear ol’ Dad would say: I’ll be dipped in sesame seeds.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a hardline conservative, has joined forces with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an equally hardline progressive, on legislation aimed at banning former members of Congress from joining the lobbying ranks immediately after leaving office.

Who in the world knew?

Cruz put out a Twitter message that declared he actually agrees with an idea that AOC put out there, which is to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists; at least, she said, the new law should require a lengthy waiting period.

I don’t think hell has frozen over, but it might be getting a bit chilly down there nonetheless.

This unlikely partnership demonstrates to me that bipartisanship is not a lost cause on Capitol Hill.

I’ve written often about my dislike for Sen. Cruz. As for AOC, well, she has annoyed me as well, given the undeserved spotlight she is getting as a rookie member of the House of Representatives.

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this: “If you are a member of Congress + leave, you shouldn’t be allowed to turn right around &leverage your service for a lobbyist check. I don’t think it should be legal at ALL to become a corporate lobbyist if you’ve served in Congress. At minimum there should be a long wait period.”

Cruz responded with this: “Here’s something I don’t say often: I agree with @AOC.” He said he has long favored a ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists. He added this via Twitter: “The Swamp would hate it, but perhaps a chance for bipartisan cooperation.”

There you have it. Two lawmakers from extreme ends of the political spectrum have reached out, locked arms and decided on something on which they both have found common ground.

Indeed, lobbyists who walk away from the halls of power and begin working directly for corporate employers have built-in advantages over their colleagues/competitors. It ain’t fair, man!

AOC responded that she’s “down” with what Cruz has proposed as long as it doesn’t contain any partisan trickery. Cruz responded, “You’re on.”

This is a small step. It’s still an important one.

Lawmaker to lobbyist: an unfair advantage

Blake Farenthold has left one job in Washington, D.C., and has immediately cashed in with another one.

It makes me wonder as I have in the past: Why can’t there be a built-in revolving door clause that requires former lawmakers to spend some time on the outside before they become lobbyists?

Farenthold left Congress amid a sexual harassment scandal that took him down. He dipped into a taxpayer-funded cache of money to shell out $84,000 to settle some of the sexual harassment claims.

It was not a graceful end to this man’s congressional career.

What does he do now? He lands a job as a “legislative liaison” for the Port of Port Lavaca, near Corpus Christi, which is where he represented in Congress.

Why does this stink? Because it allows an immediate past member of Congress to parlay his contacts, relationships and friendships with members of Congress on behalf of interests he is representing.

It gives him a leg up or an unfair advantage over other lobbyists.

I have nothing against lobbying, per se. It provides special interests with valuable access to those who can benefit them tangibly. I get it, man! It’s the American way.

However, I’ve never liked this idea of legislators or members of Congress instantly becoming lobbyists after their public careers have come to an end.

I would prefer a two- or three-year required waiting period. It enables some additional congressional turnover to occur, which might tend to level the playing field for all the lobbyists who hound, harangue and hassle members of Congress on behalf of their clients.

As the Texas Tribune reported: In a statement provided to the Caller-Times, the Calhoun Port Authority, which oversees the Port of Port Lavaca-Point Comfort, confirmed that Farenthold would serve as the port’s full-time legislative liaison. The port did not return a phone call from the Texas Tribune requesting comment Monday.

“Blake has always been a strong supporter of the Calhoun Port Authority and is familiar with the issues facing the Port,” the statement said. “The Board looks forward to the services Blake can provide in assisting the Port with matters in Washington, D.C.”

Yeah. Do ya think?

Aww, what the heck. Maybe with his new source of income, he can pay back that 84 grand he took from taxpayers to settle those bad conduct lawsuits.

Finally, a Trump policy worth endorsing

I told you I would say something positive if Donald J. Trump ever did something worthy of an endorsement while he is president of the United States.

Here it comes.

I like the ban he has placed on those who leave federal employment, meaning they cannot work for at least five years as lobbyists after they leave public office.

Some of them would face lifetime bans.

There you go. I’ve just broken my lengthy string of critical comments against Trump.


According to The Associated Press: “Most of the people standing behind me will not be able to go to work,” Trump joked, referring to an array of White House officials lined up behind him as he sat at his desk in the Oval Office. The officials included Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon and counselor Kellyanne Conway. “So you have one last chance to get out.”

I’ve long lamented the revolving door that separates public service from private lobbying. In Texas, for instance, legislators can leave public office and step virtually immediately into lobbying positions. It allows these ex-lawmakers to use their intimate contacts and their influence on government agencies to the benefit of their new employers: the firms they represent as registered lobbyists.

Trump says that won’t happen with those who work within his administration. This, I submit, is a welcome reform in the relationship between government agencies and the lobbying firms that seek to benefit from government money.

Boehner may become lobbyist … who knew?


Twenty-five years on Capitol Hill bought John Boehner a lot of friendships.

OK, perhaps “bought” isn’t entirely appropriate, but he did acquire a lot of contacts.

So, the question of the day is this: Will the soon-to-be former House speaker join the corps of high-dollar lobbyists?

Gee. Do you think?

Boehner may move to K Street

Boehner announced this week he’s resigning from Congress. He’s giving up his power House speakership because, word has it, he was tired of fighting with the TEA Party wing of his Republican Party.

The House of Representatives requires a one-year cooling off period before former members can actually lobby. But let’s face it: Boehner’s connections will enable him to line up any opportunity he chooses to pursue once the year is up.

Observers note that Boehner is a savvy politician who has made many friends in and out of government.

USA Today reports: “He’ll get seven figures on the street,” said Tom Davis, a fellow Republican and former Virginia congressman who now lobbies for the financial-consulting giant Deloitte. “He’s got a lot of friends and allies in Congress. But it’s not necessarily his Rolodex that’s valuable. It’s just that he knows Congress inside and out.”

I guess it’s safe to say that Boehner will console his loss of political power with an abundance of cash he’ll earn once he signs on to represent well-heeled interests looking for any advantage they can get on Capitol Hill.

John Boehner is a cinch to find it for them.


Who picks up the tab for meals?

State Sen. Kirk Watson wants Texans to know more about the folks who spend money on meals for registered lobbyists.

He wants to close a loophole in the state ethics laws. From where I sit, the Austin Democrat is spot on in seeking what looks like a minor change, but which could carry significant symbolic weight.


Watson has filed some bills that seek to require lobbyists to be more forthcoming on who picks up the tab for meals.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “Watson said he’s not casting ‘aspersions’ on anyone but hopes his legislation will increase public confidence in state officials as they interact with lobbyists representing various interests at the Capitol. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, has filed similar legislation, but Watson’s bills take the concept a few steps further. They extend the reporting requirements to spending on relatives of state officials while building in protection against future loopholes.”

The Tribune adds: “Under current law, lobbyists are supposed to disclose their wining and dining activities to the Texas Ethics Commission. But there’s a catch. They can spend up to $114 on a single legislator or state official — for items such as meals, lodging and transportation — without having to disclose the details to authorities. Anything over that is supposed to be itemized and include the name of the official.”

One of the bills Watson has filed would reduce the limit required for expense reporting to $50.

Watson’s effort is a worthwhile attempt to shine some light on the interaction between lobbyists and legislators. Given that the state allows legislators to leave public office and become lobbyists almost immediately, it’s good to have some sharper eyes on the activities of the men and women who put the squeeze on legislators to do their employers’ bidding.


Revolving door keeps spinning in Austin

The late comic genius George Carlin used to poke fun at words — for example, taking note of particularly amusing oxymorons.

“Military intelligence,” “jumbo shrimp” … that kind of thing.

“Government ethics”?

I know, it’s a tired cliché at times to make light of what some in government think of as ethical conduct. But here’s yet another example of why ethical reform needs government’s attention — but it’s not likely to get off the ground.

Former state Rep. John Davis, a Houston Republican, has just registered as a lobbyist immediately after ending his tenure in the Texas House of Representatives.


Why is that so bad? Simple. He’s now able to parlay his myriad connections within state government to fatten his own wallet and help the clients on whose behalf he is lobbying.

Davis is going to lobby for a Tomball-based residential contracting firm that works closely with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Is that fair, say, for other contractors who might want to get in on the action provided by a state agency? Does former Rep. Davis have some inside knowledge that others might not be able to obtain as readily?

You figure it out.

Davis is doing not a single illegal thing here. He’s just taking advantage of a gigantic loophole in the state’s ethics-in-government code.

It stinks.

It’s also a tradition in Texas politics and government for lawmakers to move smoothly and seamlessly from legislating to lobbying. Former House Speaker Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, did it when he left the House just a few years ago.

Two state legislators, both Republicans — Rep. Angie Chen Button of Garland and Sen. Van Taylor of Plano — have proposed putting a four-year waiting period on the time former lawmakers can register as lobbyists. Davis, according to the San Antonio Express-News, opposes the legislation. Imagine that.

Do you think they’ll find other opponents among their fellow legislators who might want to jump on that lobbyist gravy train once their days as public servants have ended?

Government ethics? Add it to that dubious list of nonsensical terms.