State should get rid of lobbying law loophole

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has announced that registered state and federal lobbyists will not be allowed to serve in the Trump administration, and people who leave the administration will have to wait five years before they can become lobbyists. That sounds pretty tough, designed to prevent the kind of political revolving door the average American is sick of.

But all such policies seem stringent when, in fact, some of them are quite easily gotten around.

Indiana law, for example, says that a legislator may not be registered as a lobbyist or employed as a legislative liaison for one year after the date the individual ceases to be a member of the General Assembly.

Think that stopped Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury? Instead of seeking re-election, he will be joining the Indianapolis-based lobbying firm Corydon Group as vice president in January. During his one-year cooling off period, he won’t be lobbying himself. But he will surely be providing his new employer with a lot of inside information that will no doubt improve their lobbying efforts. Nice little loophole.

Think it stopped Brent Steele, R-Bedford? You might recall that he is the legislator who pushed so hard for vaping legislation that pretty much shut many vaping companies out of the Indiana market and created a near monopoly for a handful of companies now directed by the Vapor Association of Indiana.

Steele is taking a job as executive director of the association, which will almost certainly be lobbying against repeal of the bill Steele helped get passed. During his first year, his employer says, he will hire an outside lobbying firm instead of doing the lobbying himself. That makes us feel so much better.

We should want to keep our part-time legislature in Indiana instead of going full-time the way so many states have. But part-time legislators need other employment, so there will always be the danger of conflicts of interest. The best the state can do is to minimize the conflicts.

A good place to start is to look for loopholes in the law, and there is a big one concerning lobbying. Legislators should not be forbidden just from personally lobbying for a year. They should also be forbidden from working for any firm that does any kind of lobbying for a year.

In fact, let’s make it two.

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