Benson joins call to end lawmaker-lobbyist ‘revolving door’

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson discusses a redistricting settlement proposal on Jan. 25, 2019.

Lansing — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has joined calls for a new “cooling off" period to prevent lawmakers from immediately going to work as lobbyists.

“I do have concerns about the revolving door, and that’s going to be something that we look into and try to change,” Benson said Friday on WKAR-TV’s Off the Record.

As The Detroit News reported last month, Michigan is among a minority of states without an ethics law prohibiting lawmakers or state officials from immediately taking paid jobs as lobbyists to the Legislature when their term expires.

At least four former lawmakers have registered as lobbyists since leaving office Jan 1, and a fifth is seeking a declaratory ruling on if he must register in his new role with a union group. Four officials from Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration have also registered as lobbyists in the past two months.

Cooling off periods are “best practice,” and without one, there is  “a potential for corruption,” said Benson, a Detroit Democrat whose office oversees the Michigan Lobby Registration Act. She noted the possibility that lawmakers could be promised future jobs in exchange for preferential treatment.

Legislators near the end of their term could be “influenced by — as they look for a new job — someone who may want to take advantage of the job that these individuals were elected to do and influence their final decisions and therefore pay them appropriately right after the fact when they leave office,” she said.

A proposal recently reintroduced in the state Senate would create a two-year “cooling off” period for most lawmakers and a three-year lobbying ban for lawmakers who chair powerful policy or appropriations committees.

Sponsoring Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, last month told The News he thinks the proposed law would “give the voting public the sense that this system is not rigged.”

Benson said she believes a two-year period would be appropriate in Michigan, which has one of the strictest term limit laws in the country limiting lawmakers to a total of six years in the state House and eight years in the state Senate.

Recently registered lobbyists include Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, a Lowell Republican who chaired the powerful appropriations committee and is now working for the Kelly Cawthorne multi-client firm.

Shelly Edgerton, who ran the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs under Snyder, registered as a lobbyist on Feb. 5 in her new role as senior counsel at the Dykema law and lobbying firm in Lansing.

Twitter: @jonathanoosting