Sunday, January 13, 2013

"Block the Revolving Door"

The following is an editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal, originally published on January 11, 2013:

Then-Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, right, shakes hands with Gov. Scott Walker last year at the state Capitol. Fitzgerald registered this week to work as a private lobbyist.

Former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald just left his seat and leadership position in the state Legislature.

But he won't be leaving the Capitol.'

Fitzgerald is the latest in a long line of state lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — who swap public service for more lucrative careers as private lobbyists.

It's a revolving door that Wisconsin allows to spin far too fast.

I have always thought that it was sensible, logical, and civilized to confine the possession of weapons the only purpose of which is to kill people to those who police and defend us.

The paranoids at the NRA thought otherwise, and they have unaccountably won the day almost everywhere almost all the time.

So far.

By another odd coincidence this massive, countrywide reaction to what happened to those children in Connecticut came at a time when the legislatures which must be equally horrified and motivated to do something, anything in response have less and less reason to be fearful of the reprisal of this and all the other single-issue bullies who have been playing such a damaging and prominent role in our less-than-representative democratic system.

Fitzgerald's successor in the Legislature had just been sworn into office on Monday when, a day later, Fitzgerald registered to lobby for American Traffic Solutions. By Thursday, Fitzgerald had added another client: School Choice Wisconsin.

Most states have laws controlling this troubling practice.

Wisconsin should, too.

The quick transition from public servant to hired gun threatens the integrity of state government in two ways.

First, the revolving door mixes public and private interests in a potentially corrupting relationship. A lawmaker might well be influenced in public duties by the promise of a lucrative lobbying job. The result could be policies that serve a private interest rather than the common good.

Second, a former lawmaker has connections especially valuable to a lobbying firm. Not only do those connections allow the former lawmaker to cash in for personal gain on experience as a public servant, but they also create opportunities to abuse the public process for the private benefit of clients.

Iowa bans lawmakers from lobbying for at least two years after they leave office. Even Congress has adopted this rule. The two-year delay diminishes a public official's immediate influence, power and knowledge.

"So it doesn't appear there's some untoward or inappropriate ability to influence public decisions," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "It's just incredibly unseemly for someone to occupy a position of influence and power in the Legislature and then trade on that almost immediately afterward in a lobbying position."

Heck's good government group long has pushed for legislation to guard the revolving door. The new Legislature should finally get this done.

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