Our Opinion: Lawmakers, lobbyists and ‘the smell test’

Vilifying lobbyists is a popular pastime in Missouri — particularly in Jefferson City.

Pardon us for not piling on.

A bill pre-filed by state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, would prohibit lawmakers from lobbying within two years of leaving office.

The only existing restrictions apply to state department directors and other appointed officials, who are prohibited from lobbying their former agency within a year after leaving office and from ever lobbying on an issue they worked on while in public office.

Lamping recently had second thoughts on the legislative prohibition — not to reduce the limit, but to extend it, in the words of the fictional Buzz Lightyear, “to infinity and beyond.”

His revised proposal prohibits anyone elected after Jan. 1, 2014, from ever serving as a registered lobbyist in Missouri. The ban applies, he said, to people elected to “any statewide office and any federal office (including) Congress, president and all that stuff.”

Lamping acknowledged the prevailing public perception of lawmakers who become lobbyists when he said: “I just think that, in this day and age, the general public looks at it as something’s going on that they don’t know about — that there’s something there that just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The axiomatic translation is: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And the smell test involves suspicions that ex-lawmakers may have worked with current lawmakers who still owe them favors.

Is the smell test sufficient to restrict careers in the private sector? Is it sufficient to violate someone’s First Amendment rights by preventing them from taking a job that would let them speak on a subject of their choosing?

We’re not convinced.

In this era of legislative term limits, the careers of lobbyists may extend well beyond those of lawmakers.

Legislators, like journalists, face the challenge of grappling with issues that are not necessarily within their realm of knowledge or expertise.

Lobbyists are a resource. They advocate for or against proposals, citing background information, statistics, experiences of other governing bodies and actual or potential consequences.

Admittedly, lobbyists are a biased resource.

But seeking balance is a responsibility for policy-makers, not lobbyists.

If legislators are making decisions without hearing from both — sometimes multiple — sides on any issue, the fault may lie in the office, not the hallways.

We’re not saying every lobbyist is a paragon of virtue who never has flexed the rules or the truth.

But rather than restrict private sector opportunities, we believe voters have a responsibility to elect representatives who demonstrate integrity.


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