It's no surprise the best lobbyists at the N.C. legislature are former lawmakers themselves. But the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research's latest findings provide a stark view of how quickly elected office can become ka-ching for legislators once they give up those public servant jobs. Whether and how much that lucrative work to come influences lawmakers while they're in office is something to ponder.
According to the rankings released Tuesday, 11 former legislators now rank among the most influential lobbyists. At the top sits former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, who served 18 terms in the House. Brubaker barely took a breather after leaving after the 2011-2012 session before he was mingling again at the legislature during this 2013-2014 session representing 21 clients as a contract lobbyist for such companies as GlaxoSmithKline, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Pepsico and GTECH Corporation, as well as organizations like the N.C. Association of Realtors, the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers and the NFL Players Association.
Coming in second is Dana E. Simpson, not a former legislator, of the Raleigh law firm Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan. Third is former N.C. Republican Party chairman Tom Fetzer, also not a former legislator.
Duke Energy Carolinas LLC has a lobbyist Kathy G. Hawkins focused solely only its interests. She comes in seventh. She had her work cut out for her as Duke tried to fend off legislation to better regulate coal ash production and disposal after a massive ash spill earlier this year. Environmentalists say the legislation that passed at the very end of the short session this year was "woefully inadequate," specicifying that Duke excavate ash at only four of its 14 coal-fired power plants. The long-term fate of other ponds isn’t clear but, for some, will likely include caps placed over ash that stays in place.
Paige Worsham, policy analyst with the Center that did this ranking, said the "high number of former legislators who are now influential lobbyists shows that these individuals continue to have impact on policy even after leaving elected office."
Brubaker attributes his effectiveness to knowing how to talk to legislators: "As a former legislator," he told the Center, " I appreciate brevity and know how important it is for a lobbyist to explain the issue in five to ten minutes."
Simpson, second best on the list, might have learned that from Brubaker (or taught it to him).
He served as Special Assistant for Communications and Policy when Brubaker was House Speaker in the late 1990s.
Rob Schofield of the Progressive Pulse takes the Center to task for the rankings, noting the Center is "a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state" and that it has a commitment to sober and thorough research."
"That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual 'rankings' of lobbyists and lawmakers," Schofield writes. "It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word 'effectiveness,' which as a practical matter, has come to mean 'power and influence.' Surprise! This year, the 'most effective' lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker."
The Center's Worsham said the "rankings ... help citizens understand which key interests and organizations have clout with legislators in North Carolina.... shed light on what is often an invisible process... show trends in the lobbying profession and illustrate which issues are hottest."
What do you think?
Under N.C. law, a legislator may register as a lobbyist six months after leaving office. Is that too short of an interval?
- Fannie Flono