Proposal Targets Lawmaker-Lobby Revolving Door

September 7, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveSouth Carolina would have the longest ban in the nation on former state lawmakers lobbying their legislature under a proposal by S.C. Sen. Mick Mulvaney, R-Lancaster.

The proposed ban, five years, would not lock a revolving door of lawmakers turned lobbyists, but would go a long way toward closing it and would be three years longer than anything similar nationally.

State law currently imposes a one-year ban. Mulvaney wants to extend that to five years. “This is part and parcel of an approach that recognizes that citizens must have confidence in the system,” he says.

The Nerve has identified nine former state lawmakers who are registered lobbyists, all but one of whom served in the House. Their stints in the General Assembly date as far back as the early 1980s to as recently as 2008.

S.C. law requires lobbyists to register with the State Ethics Commission.

Mulvaney sponsored a bill in last year’s legislative session to lengthen the ban to five years. The bill, S. 660, was introduced in April 2009 and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It received no action after that.

The bill also would apply to constitutional officers as well as directors and deputy directors of state agencies. And, through grandfathering, it would change the applicable dates of their time in office such that it would pertain only to recently elected and appointed officials, as follows:

  • Lawmakers elected after Dec. 31, 2007, instead of the current date under state law – Dec. 31, 1991.
  • Constitutional officers elected after Dec. 31, 2005, rather than Dec. 31, 1993.
  • Department directors and deputy directors appointed after June 30, 2005, versus June 30, 1993.

Seven senators co-sponsored the legislation: Republicans Kevin Bryant of Anderson, Paul Campbell of Berkeley, Tom Davis of Beaufort, Shane Massey of Edgefield, Mike Rose of Dorchester and Phillip Shoopman of Greenville; and Democrat Vincent Sheheen of Kershaw.

Mulvaney says he would like to reintroduce the proposal, either as its own bill or as part of a broader reform measure that also would ban publicly funded lobbying and prohibit legislators who are dual state employees from voting on budgetary or other matters that could pose a conflict of interest to them.

“I think it’d be nice to have a comprehensive transparency bill,” Mulvaney says.

Known as a “cooling-off” period, some form of a revolving-door lobbying restriction on former legislators is on the books in 31 states, according to research as of January 2009 by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan legislative service organization with offices in Denver and Washington, D.C.

“At least 16 states restrict former legislators from lobbying for one year after leaving office and six states have two-year restrictions,” Peggy Kerns, director of the National Conference’s Center for Ethics in Government, writes in a briefing paper on revolving-door laws.

Georgia has a one-year ban; North Carolina, six months.

So, is a one-year ban an appropriate amount of time?

“I think that’s a call the General Assembly has to make for its members,” says Cathy Hazelwood, attorney for the State Ethics Commission. “We don’t weigh in on that.”

However, Hazelwood says, “If it’s going to be a full year, then make it a complete year.”

What does she mean by that?

“That you don’t monitor legislation; that you don’t do PR (public relations) work,” Hazelwood says.

No state has a five-year prohibition on former lawmakers becoming lobbyists, the National Conference research shows.

Thus, were South Carolina to extend its ban to five years, it would be the longest in the country.

Mulvaney says he has been surveying his constituents about the Palmetto State’s revolving-door law and other issues. Most responses on the revolving-door ban have favored a lifetime restriction, the senator says.

But because of constitutional questions, he says, “I don’t think you can do that.”

Agreed, says John Crangle, an attorney and a respected good-government watchdog who has policed the State House since the Wild West days of a bribery scandal 20 years ago dubbed “Lost Trust.”

“It’s probably a violation of the First Amendment,” Crangle, director of the nonprofit group Common Cause of South Carolina, says of a lifetime ban.

In fact, he contends that even a five-year revolving-door law would be unlikely to stand up to constitutional muster.

Thomas Crocker teaches constitutional law at the School of Law on the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus. Crocker says he is not well versed in the legal ramifications of cooling-off periods. But he concurs that a lifetime ban would be a problem constitutionally because it would “essentially muzzle free speech.”

Limited restrictions offer an alternative way to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Crocker says. “Someone who’s been out of the Legislature for a number of years is presumed to have less influence than someone who was just there three months ago,” the professor says.

Crangle goes yet a step farther, arguing that lengthening the state’s ban is unnecessary. “There’s no need for it because you really don’t have a problem now,” he says. “I don’t think it even threatens to be a serious problem, to be honest with you.”

Crangle lobbied for South Carolina’s one-year ban in the aftermath of Lost Trust, which ensnared several state lawmakers in an FBI-led bribery sting.

The ban was included in a sweeping drain-the-swamp law passed as result of the scandal, the Ethics, Government Accountability, and Campaign Reform Act of 1991, or the Ethics Act for short.

Restrictions at the federal level notwithstanding, the revolving door is much more problematic in Congress, Crangle says. “I think about 170 former U.S. House members are lobbyists.”

The federal cooling-off period is two years for U.S. senators and one year for U.S. House members, according to a May 12 report by Congressional Research Service legislative attorney Jack Maskell.

Adam Taylor is one of at least nine former members of the S.C. Legislature who are registered lobbyists. Taylor, a Republican from Laurens, served five two-year terms in the House, from 1998 to 2008.

Upon leaving the General Assembly, Taylor went to work for his and his wife’s alma mater, Lander University, a small, publicly funded school in the Upstate, as its vice president for university advancement.

Then after two years, Taylor recently became Lander’s vice president for governmental affairs. And, in July, he registered as a lobbyist for the university.

Taylor speaks well of Mulvaney, saying he considers his former colleague a friend. “But I think the current one-year plan is OK,” Taylor says. “I think it’s worked well in the past.”

He points out that in most cases the state’s one-year revolving-door restriction also applies to judgeships in South Carolina, many of which lawmakers fill by majority vote. “There’s a lot of attorneys in the General Assembly that want to be judges,” Taylor says, “and they also have that one-year cooling-off period.”

Until he signed up to advocate for Lander in the General Assembly, it was the only publicly funded higher education institution in the state without a lobbyist, he says. “We need to have our voice at the table, just like everyone else.”

The other eight former lawmakers who are registered lobbyists are:

  • Billy Boan, who served in the House for 16 years in the 1980s and ‘90s and is a senior vice president of state government relations in the South Carolina office of McGuireWoods Consulting. The firm also employs former Gov. Jim Hodges, for whom Boan served as chief of staff.
  • Mike Daniel, who presided over the Senate as lieutenant governor from 1983 to 1987 and is now an attorney in Columbia.
  • John G. Felder Sr., a former House member who also now practices law in the Midlands.
  • Ronald C. Fulmer Sr., a House member from 1990 to 1996 and co-founder of State Capitol Group, a lobbying and government relations company in Columbia.
  • Shirley Hinson, who held a House seat from 1996 to 2007 and is now a lobbyist for the publicly funded College of Charleston as its government relations director.
  • Mark Kelley, who served for 10 years in the House and is now a registered lobbyist for another state-supported university, Coastal Carolina, on behalf of Kelley, McCain & Smith Owens, a communications and consulting firm in the Capital City.
  • Steve Lanford, a former state representative who is a registered lobbyist for, and executive director of, the South Carolina Emergency Medical Services Association. In widespread media reports last legislative session, Lanford came under fire for opposing efforts to make the names of emergency medical responders public.
  • Will McCain, previously a House member who now works with Kelley at their Kelley, McCain & Smith Owens firm.

Reach Ward at (803) 254-4411 or eric@thenerve.org.

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