Lobbying Lawmakers

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's laws disclosing the relationship between state lawmakers and lobbyists should be improved, watchdog groups and some lawmakers say.
The state does not have restrictions on how fast a state lawmaker can become a lobbyist after they leave public office. And Michigan is one of only three states that does not require lawmakers to fill out financial disclosure forms that could reveal potential conflicts of interest with the groups trying to influence them.
Legislation that would address some of those concerns has been introduced in the Legislature for the past few years, by both Republicans and Democrats, without much success. Supporters of the reforms are hoping for better luck this term.
In March, the state House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would force departing state lawmakers and high-level executive government officers to wait one year before they could be hired as lobbyists. The bill is pending in the state Senate.
Supporters say the "cooling off" period would reduce the chances of conflicts for lawmakers who are leaving because of term limits.
"I think it sends a message to voters that as a legislator coming to the end of my term, my decisions are not clouded by any idea that I may gain personally by favoring one group over another," said Rep. Marc Corriveau, a first-term Democrat from Northville and sponsor of the bill. "This may take away that perception and prevent it from happening."
Critics of the legislation say it could unfairly shut off a career path for former lawmakers who have no choice but to find new jobs because of term limits.
Last year, the House passed a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, but it never was voted on in the Senate. Ward has sponsored several lobbyist and campaign finance-related bills in the past few years. He says some of them might not pass unless current lawmakers are exempted from the requirements, which he considers unfortunate but perhaps a political reality.
"All of these issues are the ones that don't make you very popular with your colleagues," Ward said. "But they're important."
Michigan had 43 former state lawmakers registered as lobbyists in 2005, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. Some were out of the legislature for more than a year before getting their new jobs, but some were not.
At least 26 other states have similar laws already in place to slow the revolving door of politicians moving to lobbying firms.
Overall, the Center for Public Integrity gave Michigan a 'D' grade in a 2003 nationwide review of the public's access to information about lobbyists. Michigan ranked 21st overall, as few states received good grades from the watchdog group.
Another measure reintroduced in the Michigan legislation this year would require lawmakers to release some family financial information, certain types of debt information, and future and past employment if arrangements have been made while in political office. It passed the House in April and is pending before the Senate.
Supporters say the financial disclosure forms would give the public a better handle on whether the decisions their representatives make have any potential conflicts. But opponents say the bill goes too far.
Forty-seven states already have similar reporting requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Michigan, Vermont and Idaho are the only states without them.

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