State lawmakers proposed a bill Monday that would prevent former legislators from becoming professional lobbyists until two years after leaving elected office.
Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said in a statement he would join Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, in introducing legislation to stop the “revolving door” of politicians becoming lobbyists.
Wachs said in an interview with The Badger Herald special interests are influencing government too much, to the injury of the middle class and ordinary people. He said he was excited to be working with Lehman in getting the bill through the Legislature.
“If we don’t start doing something about these issues, I think our republic is somewhat in danger,” Wachs said. “We’re supposed to represent people, not corporations.”
Wachs said the bill is important for Wisconsinites since lobby groups are overwhelming the Capitol with special interest issues. Although he could not outline specific strategy techniques he would pursue to persuade legislators, Wachs said he plans to personally speak with as many legislators as possible about the proposal and the issues it addresses.
Wachs said the bill would not remedy all the problems with lobbying but added it is a good start nonetheless.
Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said many states have adopted this “cooling off” period to prevent legislators from immediately using their political leverage to benefit lobbying corporations and influence legislation and the federal government has enacted similar legislation. Iowa has the same two-year system in place and Minnesota and Michigan both have a designated period as well, he said.
Heck said the bill is needed in the Legislature and that it is not a partisan proposal, but a matter of public perception. He said it is important for the public to trust its representatives and not speculate as to whether officials are only in their position to eventually influence legislation.
He added there have been many instances of legislators who became lobbyists, including former Assembly Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, who was removed from office. Jensen then became chief lobbyist for school choice advocacy group American Federation for Children shortly after removal.
Former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, was another legislator-turned-lobbyist, leaving the Legislature to join lobby group School Choice Wisconsin after losing his bid to former Gov. Tommy Thompson for the U.S. Senate Republican nomination, Heck said.
He said most states have adopted some sort of “revolving door” policy and it is important for Wisconsin to take its place among them.
“Wisconsin is almost the glaring exception,” Heck said. “We usually have a pretty good progressive government reputation. But in this, we’re lagging far behind.”
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Mike McCabe said this proposal is always a “tough sell” in the Legislature, as both parties want to be able to use their experience in government on the lobbying side.
He said his organization has supported this proposal to stop the revolving door for many years because it creates problems and distrust in political offices.
McCabe said the trend is a growing problem as legislators today are increasingly becoming career politicians. He said this becomes an issue when lobbyists making big campaign contributions receive special access to the Legislature and this shuts out average people unable to afford a former legislator to lobby for their cause.
Lehman could not be reached for comment.