Ex-legislators’ lobbying debated

Ex-legislators’ lobbying debated

BY Martha Stoddard

LINCOLN – Would a law requiring elected officials to wait two years before lobbying the Legislature make government cleaner and more respected?

Or would it unfairly deprive current lawmakers of job opportunities and future lawmakers of a source of valuable experience?

Those were questions lawmakers wrestled with Wednesday at a hearing on Legislative Bill 870.

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee took no immediate action on the bill or on separate measures that would restrict prerecorded campaign phone calls and require that the state’s top elected officials not hold second jobs.

State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln, who introduced LB 870 on behalf of Gov. Dave Heineman, said a “cooling off” period before lobbying would improve the public’s perception of state government and of state legislators.

He said the goal is to keep special interest groups from gaining an advantage over ordinary citizens by getting former elected officials to represent them, whether as paid or unpaid lobbyists.

“The issue is not the compensation,” Avery said. “The issue is the advantage your clients have because of your connections.”

But Sen. Mike Friend of Omaha questioned whether the sacrifices that public service requires should continue once an elected official leaves office. He also said he doesn’t give former colleagues any more access than other lobbyists.

“I fail to find any value in this bill at all,” he said. “I hadn’t heard there’s a problem out there.”

Sen. Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, chairman of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee that heard testimony on the bill, noted the number of former legislative speakers who have become lobbyists over the years. Among them are Ron Withem, Dennis Baack, Kermit Brashear and Curt Bromm.

Aguilar said that group holds a wealth of knowledge that can be helpful to current lawmakers. Their experience may be especially valuable in the era of term limits.

“I have nothing but respect for them,” he said.

Peggy Adair, a lobbyist for the League of Women Voters, said the bill would do nothing to prevent former senators from offering their experience and advice. The problem comes when they use that experience on behalf of lobbying clients, she said.

Jack Gould of Common Cause Nebraska said voters have a social contract with the people they elect. He said voters don’t expect elected officials to leave office and put the contacts and experience they gained in office on the auction block.

Nebraska currently has no restrictions on elected officials’ leaving office and immediately working as lobbyists.

Under LB 870, the waiting period would apply to all constitutional officers – governor, lieutenant governor, auditor, treasurer, attorney general – as well as legislators and members of the Public Service Commission, State Board of Education and University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

The committee also heard testimony about:

. LB 720, introduced by State Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, which would limit calls made with automatic dialing machines, whether campaign calls or other, to between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. It would require that the sponsor of the calls be identified at the beginning of the message, that contact information be provided in the call and that a script for the calls be filed with the Public Service Commission.

. LB 817, which would bar the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor, state treasurer and attorney general from holding second jobs and continuing to operate businesses.

Avery, the bill’s sponsor, said it was partly a response to State Treasurer Shane Osborn having continued to work for an Omaha insurance brokerage while holding his $85,000-a-year elected office. Osborn is a general consultant and shareholder in the SilverStone Group.

Some committee members questioned whether the restriction would keep people from running for the offices because they needed more money to live on.

Date: 1/31/2008 12:00:00 AM