When it comes to transparency in our state government, things tend to get a little murky.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, Michigan is ranked 50th out of 50 states in transparency. Anything we can do to improve the transparency, integrity and accountability of the Legislature would be a step in the right direction. But one area in particular needs to be fixed sooner rather than later: putting an end to the lawmaker-to-lobbyist revolving door.
In recent months we’ve seen a growing number of former legislators become registered lobbyists. Right now there is nothing stopping a legislator from walking out of the Capitol one day, and walking straight into a lobbying gig the next. Legislators who immediately become lobbyists can have enormous influence over their former colleagues.
Currently Michigan is one of only 12 states that has no set waiting period before a legislator can become a lobbyist. This means that former politicians can legally use their personal connections to lobby for any issue whatsoever as soon as they leave office.
Not only that, but a legislator who is a committee chair can choose to fast-track or hold up any bill in their committee. They can do this to benefit a friendly lobbyist, potentially with a quid pro quo of earning a well-paid lobbying job as soon as their time in office ends. Whether this is happening behind the scenes or not, we need to solve any public perception of a rigged system.
That’s why I’ve introduced Senate Bill 57, which would stop former lawmakers from becoming paid lobbyists for at least two years after leaving office. It would also stop former committee chairs from lobbying for three years.
Due to Michigan’s short term limits for legislators — three two-year terms for state House members and two four-year terms for senators — a high number of lawmakers are pushed out the door every election cycle, looking for work. For example, 25 of the 38 state senators, or two-thirds of the members, were prevented from seeking re-election last November.
My goal with this legislation is to curb the personal influence that former legislators would have as lobbyists. With a two- or three-year “cooling off period,” it would be more difficult for these politicians to use personal relationships or “cash in” favors to influence legislation.
We should all get behind the effort to improve transparency, integrity and accountability in our government. Democrats and Republicans, the governor and the Legislature can all support this endeavor, because at the end of the day, it’s about doing what’s right.
What’s right is the public being confident that their representatives are not rigging the system for their own gain — that there are no more special interest deals being carried out in the corridors of power in Lansing. Ultimately what’s right is that our elected officials are working for us and not working for themselves or special interests.
Michigan has a long way to go to fight corruption and clean up government. Putting an end to the lawmaker-to-lobbyist revolving door would be a good first step.
This op-ed appeared in the March 3 edition of the Detroit News. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.