Posted: 01/04/13 05:43, Edited: 01/04/13 05:44
by Dave Mindeman
Rep. Steve Gottwalt decided to resign from the legislature to give more time to a new job involving lobbying for a St. Louis Park firm.
This is good. It is the right decision.
But what is troubling is that his first reaction was to do both.
Gottwalt had planned to lobby in states other than Minnesota to ensure there was no conflict of interest but he said that the new job would prevent him from fully serving his constituents.
Gottwalt's position was Legislative Director for this company. It is hard to imagine that a former Minnesota legislator would be able to completely recuse himself in situations where the company had interests coming before the MN legislature. During company meetings, when Minnesota came up, would he stick his finger in his ears and make babbling noises? Would the person or persons involved in the direct lobbying NOT go to Gottwalt for advice?
Last year, Steve Sviggum also believed that he could be involved in public policy and still hold an employment position that could be directly affected by public policy. His position with the U of M Board of Regents was certainly going to run into a conflict of interest with his job with the Minnesota Senate. Yet, he insisted he could do both.
There is something amiss when legislators and policy makers cannot seem to make a distinction about conflict of interest. The cases of Sviggum and Gottwalt are really pretty hard to miss. Yet, there is this personal gut reaction by individuals involved, that there is a way to do this. Where does that come from?
We have to look at changes in this regard. Either we have to make being a legislator a full time job with a corresponding salary that fits the position, or we have to make hard and fast rules about when taking lobbying positions is appropriate.
Certainly holding legislative positions and private sector jobs in fields they have direct committee influence, should be restricted or defined. It is even questionable to allow legislators to resign and take immediate positions with companies who have business with the legislature. The inside knowledge and policy maneuvering prior to the resignation makes every action suspect.
When a legislator retires, there needs to be a moratorium of at least 3 to 5 years before they can be allowed to accept such a position. There expertise is still valuable, but inherent conflicts of interest shouldn't be a problem in such a time frame.
Special interest political influence needs to be kept at arms length when involved with direct public policy.
Some rules are in order.