In 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, he proclaimed his goal for Louisiana to be the “gold standard” for government ethics.
A decade later, lawmakers are still cashing in as lobbyists once they leave office, their paychecks fattened because they can now leverage their government contacts.
It’s true of Democrats and Republicans. It’s in the legislative process, where legislators become lobbyists, but also in the rush of lawmakers into full-time jobs in the executive branch.
The system erodes the belief of the people in their government.
“There’s a whole flock of them,” said state Sen. Conrad Appel, a Metairie Republican who has often battled with the influential nursing home industry, but his comments fully apply to representatives of other well-heeled industries.
Louisiana's nursing homes are among the nation’s worst.
“Do they have any extra authority because they were a legislator? I’d say no,” Appel said. “But they do have a leg up because they’re friends with people there, and they know how the system works, and they have contacts.”
That is almost a textbook definition of what people don’t like about government, and why there is so much cynicism about how decisions are made in the State Capitol, but also elsewhere.
The old “revolving door” of politicians using their experience — and, yes, their knowledge of complex subjects — for personal advancement is probably as old as the pharaohs of Egypt. It is certainly the case in Washington, where senior members of committees learn a lot about the bills related to energy or finance or other subjects, and then become lobbyists for the interests they served in office.
As the report from The Advocate and Pro Publica shows, the revolving doors in the State Capitol continue, despite ethics laws — and Jindal’s 2008 push did dramatically improve law on legislators disclosing their interests — the “gold standard” isn’t enough.
Revolving Door: 25 well-known lawmakers who became lobbyists, state workers, political influencers
As in Washington, despite laws that require two years’ time before legislators lobby their former colleagues, state legislators may become “consultants” or “of counsel” in the case of lawyers in a firm, to offer advice behind the scenes before becoming day-to-day fixtures in the capitol halls.
An outright ban on former legislators in government? That would probably be impractical because of constitutional challenges based on rights of free speech and association.
In the years since Jindal’s initiatives, a lot has changed about the Legislature, too. Partisan bickering is now uglier and legislative sessions — as in the past two years — have become what seems endlessly extended by special sessions. A citizen legislator who has a real job at home can be pushed into real financial hardship if that is the norm now.
But it has been a decade for the “gold standard,” and it needs some polishing — in fact, a lot of polishing.