Monday, July 02, 2007

More On Legislators Heading To Greener Pastures

The Northwest Indiana Times' Patrick Guinane takes a look at three Northwest Indiana legislators who've left the legislature recently and started careers as lobbyists. Unlike at least two dozen other states, Indiana has no cooling off period restricting former lawmakers from lobbying the legislature after they retire. Guinane writes:

The transition from Indiana legislator to lobbyist is a simple, lucrative leap that three region lawmakers have made in less than a year.Crown Point Democrat Bob Kuzman is the latest Statehouse power broker to walk through the revolving door. He resigned his House seat Tuesday, a week after starting as a governmental affairs partner at Ice Miller, the state's third-largest law firm.

While more than two-dozen states mandate a cooling-off period of at least a year, Indiana and Illinois allow former legislators to slide straight into jobs predicated upon their ability to influence past colleagues.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has imposed rules prohibiting most former executive-branch employees from lobbying state agencies for one year after leaving the administration. But the Republican governor doesn't plan to push reluctant lawmakers to follow suit.

"If the Legislature decides to lift its own standards, apply some of these same principles, I'd be happy to see that," Daniels said.

Don't expect that to happen anytime soon. Lawmakers routinely rejected past efforts to limit their career paths, including a one-year lobbying ban that languished in the House in 2005. Whenever such restrictions come up, detractors are quick to note that Indiana employs a part-time Legislature, one that pays a base salary of only $11,600 plus another $25,000 in annual expense reimbursements.

What really disgusts me is when lawmakers complain financial hardship prevents them from continued service in the legislature. "It's difficult to support a family and be down here," House Speaker Pat Bauer told Guinane, ignoring the fact that the part-time job earns lawmakers more than most Hoosiers make from their full-time jobs. Guinane's explanation of lawmakers' pay is completely misleading. The average lawmaker takes home over $40,000 a year, with the $11,600 base pay being paid up front during the first 2 months of the year. While the additional income is partially for expense reimbursements, it does provide additional income to the lawmakers.

The account of Rep. John Aguilera's retirement is particularly troublesome. He left the legislature ostensibly to run for mayor of East Chicago against the incumbent Mayor George Pabey. Interestingly, he wound up with a $65,000 part-time consulting contract to lobby the legislature instead. "But Aguilera eventually curbed his mayoral ambitions and took a $100-per-hour consulting contract with the city," Guinane writes. "The job sent him back to Indianapolis, where he earned nearly $65,000 this spring lobbying for East Chicago on riverboat gambling and property tax issues," he added.

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