Lobbying reform will leave old doubts in place

Thursday, December 13, 2007

State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln and Gov. Dave Heineman say they want to draw a clear break between being an elected official and becoming a lobbyist who is paid to influence elected officials.

"What's motivating us is ... we want to inspire confidence in government," the governor said at news conference on Wednesday explaining Avery's proposal which would ban state elected officials from becoming registered lobbyists for two years after leaving office.

Perhaps more insight, however, can be gained from examining the motives of those who seek to become lobbyists.

As an Associated Press story points out today, Sen. Curt Bromm went from being a leading opponent of lawmakers quickly turning into lobbyists, to doing so himself. After unsuccessfully pushing a one-year ban from lobbying after senators leave office, Bromm registered as a lobbyist only two days after leaving office himself.

The story also cites Kermit Brashear, Matt Connealy and Doug Cunningham, Ron Withem and Dennis Baack as senators who quickly became lobbyists after leaving office. Their motives aren't mentioned, but we suggest it comes down to one word: money.

Like everyone else, State Senators have bills to pay. They have mortgages, braces for their children's teeth and car payments to make. They're compensated for the time they spend in Lincoln, yes, but in our opinion, they're not adequately compensated for the disruption in their personal and professional careers.

Nebraska voters didn't agree, however, turning down Amendment One in May 2006, which would have increased pay for a legislator from $12,000 to $24,000 a year.

As we said at the time, the current pay tends to attract state senators "who are independently wealthy, or ... can get by on a shoestring, neither of which are a true representation of the vast majority of the voters."

In a way, term limits have already undermined legislators' ability to become effective lobbyists. As old senators leave office and new ones take office, ex-lawmakers have fewer and fewer former colleagues.

The lobbying limit might, indeed, improve public opinion about elected officials' motives.

But until lawmakers are adequately compensated, the root cause for doubts will remain.

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