The headline read, “Senator resigns for lobbying job.”[i] State Senator Lance Eads resigned from the legislature and immediately went to work for Capitol Consulting Firm of Little Rock, lobbyist firm.
You may be thinking “Wait isn’t there is a two-year cooling off period before a legislator can become a lobbyist?” Yes, there is. It was adopted to keep former legislators from abusing their close relationships with their former legislator colleagues. Unfortunately, the cooling off period was written so narrowly it is ineffective.
The cooling off period is in the Arkansas Constitution, Article 19 § 29.[ii] For two years it prohibits a former legislator from:
- Working for an educational cooperative,
- Working for an area agency on aging, or
- Registering as a lobbyist.
Notice while it prohibits working for an educational cooperative or working for an area agency on aging, it fails to prohibit a former legislator from working for a lobbyist firm. The cooling off period is only on acting as a “registered lobbyist” which apparently can be easily skirted.
Two criteria must exist before a person meets the definition of registered lobbyist.
- First, the person is lobbying (communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any public servant with the purpose of influencing legislative action or administrative action)[iii]
- Second, the person received or expended $400 or more in a calendar quarter for lobbying.
Years ago, a state legislator explained how some attorney-legislators and consultant-legislators try to represent clients before the legislature while avoiding the definition of “registered lobbyist.” One tact is to add a clause in the legislator’s contract with his client saying his services specifically exclude lobbying. That way even if he ends up advocating for his client before the legislature (lobbying) he hasn’t been being PAID to lobby. He is paid for other things. This is supposed to let the legislator avoid the second criteria (being paid for lobbying).
The legislator went on to say, even without such a clause in the contract, there is another way the attorney-legislator or consultant-legislator can represent his client without crossing the line to registered lobbyist. The legislator lays out the client’s position to his colleagues explaining its merit but doesn’t take the final step of saying “vote for this bill” or “vote against that bill.” He doesn’t have to vocalize it because they know what he wants.
Eads’ position is that of senior consultant. Perhaps his contract will SAY he isn’t paid for lobbying and perhaps he will act as the lobbyist firm’s supposed expert consultant who lays out the favorable facts and then a lobbyist team member will come in to seek the commitment to vote their way.
We do not know what exact role Lance Eads will have in the lobbying firm, but obviously he will be helping the lobbying firm advance the interests of some of their clients.
Eads has done nothing wrong. There just isn’t much ethics to be found in this ethics law.
Although the ban is written in the Constitution, the legislature was given the power to amend the cooling off provision by a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate and House of Representatives. The question is whether there is anyone with the guts to try to pass a workable cooling off period.
Ask the candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives in your district what they would do about the revolving door from legislator to lobbyist.
[i] Senator resigns for lobbying job, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 10/29/2021
[ii] (a) A former member of the General Assembly shall not take the following actions until two (2) years after the expiration of the term of office for which he or she was elected:
(1) Register as a lobbyist under Arkansas Code § 21-8-601 et seq.; or
(2) Enter into employment as the director of an:
(A) Educational cooperative under The Public School Educational Cooperative Act of 1981, § 6-13-901 et seq.; or
(B) Area agency on aging.
[iii] A.C.A § 21-8-402