AUGUSTA — Urging his fellow lawmakers to set "an ethical course for all legislators," state Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, introduced a bill Wednesday to require a one-year waiting period between leaving the Legislature and working as a lobbyist.
Crockett said his bill is a response to a 2012 national watchdog group report that gave Maine an “F” for its lack of rules and laws to deter corruption in government.
Current law, Crockett said, allows a person to “be a legislator acting on behalf of Maine’s citizens in the morning and in the afternoon be a lobbyist acting on behalf of a special-interest group or corporation. All that is required between the two positions is for a new Legislature to be sworn in or for the member to resign.
“It is a shame that we, the Legislature, have not produced ethics laws that better reflect our people. The time has now come to remedy the issue (and) ensure the citizens of our state receive the government they deserve.”
Crockett's bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Linda Valentino of Saco and Charles Priest of Brunswick, Sen. John Tuttle, D-Sanford, and Republican Reps. David Johnson of Eddington and Paul Davis of Sangerville. It is one of several ethics measures to be considered by legislators this session.
Lawmakers heard testimony last week on another “revolving door” bill, LD 69, which bars high-level executive-branch employees from directly taking jobs with industries they regulated.
Josh Tardy, a Newport resident who was Republican leader while serving in the Maine House for eight years, left legislative service in 2010 and immediately formed Mitchell Tardy Government Affairs in partnership with longtime Democratic lobbyist Jim Mitchell.
“Twenty-four hours after my successor was in, the sign was up,” Tardy said. “No waiting period for me.”
Mitchell Tardy’s client list includes such corporate giants as Anthem, Central Maine Power, the Corrections Corporation of America, General Motors, JD Irving and Wal-Mart.
Tardy, who attended Wednesday’s hearing but did not testify, said afterward that he had “always opposed” previous versions of the revolving-door bill.
“I have not seen an example, when I was in the Legislature, where a legislator turned lobbyist was ever inappropriate or tried to capitalize on any relationship fostered when he was in public service,” he said. “I think that this is a solution looking for a problem. ... Watchdog groups are creating scapegoats and diverting attention from the real issues in Maine.”
But Ann Luther of the League of Women Voters of Maine testified that even if there were no examples of inappropriate behavior by legislators, public faith in government is undermined when legislators turn into lobbyists at the end of their terms.
It gives rise to suspicions that lawmakers were “influenced by the prospect of future employment” and gave special treatment to the interests represented by the lobbyist, Luther said.
“Even if it’s only the appearance of favoritism,” Luther said, “the appearance factor is important to helping citizens keep faith with their government and reduce their skepticism about public officials.”
After the hearing, Crockett said he was confident that his bill would not meet the same rejection as previous versions considered by the Legislature.
“I just think it’s the right time,” he said. “It is going to be the most important bill that I do as a legislator.”
Disclosure: Ann Luther is on the board of directors of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service based in Hallowell. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org. Email: email@example.com.