A good chance to slow the revolving door

A good chance to slow the revolving door

State senators would improve public confidence in the integrity of Nebraska’s state government by enacting a two-year waiting period before former elected officials can become lobbyists.

The practice of elected officials turning around immediately after leaving office to work for special interests is sometimes referred to as revolving-door syndrome.

When a state senator, for example, is hired for big bucks to lobby for a special interest after leaving office, it feeds suspicion that the senator might be getting a payoff for work done while in office. It’s easy to imagine that some state senator, who receives $12,000 a year plus a per diem, might be vulnerable to a discreet job offer while still in office.

The revolving-door issue has surfaced occasionally in Nebraska, but previous efforts have petered out before they advanced very far in the legislative process.

This year, however, LB870, introduced by Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, has the support of Gov. Dave Heineman, who says, “Government should be above reproach.”

The bill would cover state senators, the governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, secretary of state, state auditor and members of the Public Service Commission, state Board of Education and University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

More than 20 states have waiting periods of as much as two years, according to information compiled by The Center for Ethics in Government. A handful of states cover only legislators or elected members of the executive branch. More than 20 states also enforce waiting periods for government staff.

The path between the legislative chamber and the Rotunda where lobbyists hang out has become crowded recently in Nebraska because term limits have forced more state senators from office.

One eyebrow-raising transition through the revolving door was made by former Sen. Don Pederson of North Platte, who was paid $20,000 to lobby for legislative approval of the $12 million purchase of the Assurity Life building in downtown Lincoln at 15th and K streets. Pederson pushed for the purchase while he was in office.

Although the plan seems to be a good deal for the state – the attractive building with the sculpture of a family is just across the street from the Capitol – Pederson’s new role as a lobbyist for the purchase feeds worry that the public’s interests may not have been adequately represented.

As Avery said in introducing the bill, “The public is already quite suspicious of government.”

Approval of the bill would make state government less of a cozy club populated only by insiders. The revolving door is spinning too fast. It’s time to slow it down.

Date: 1/29/2008 12:00:00 AM