The Guv vs. The Lobbyists

In my first few days in Helena, the capital is ablaze with Gov. Schweitzer’s controversial efforts to ban lobbyists from serving on state boards and commissions. The proposal follows Schweitzer’s introduction of a bill prohibiting elected officials at the state and local level from re-entering the political fray as lobbyists within 24 months of leaving office.

George Ochenski, columnist for the Missoula Independent, writes:

Schweitzer’s latest foray against lobbyists has tongues wagging in the Capitol, and few of them are wagging with joy. It’s no surprise, really, when you consider that Schweitzer’s broadside was just that, a shotgun blast at a general class of citizens who happen to make their living in the halls and in front of legislative committees as they jostle and joust in the service of those they represent.

It is quite a stand, considering many governors embrace, rather than shun, corporate lobbyists. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance, has made an art form out of appointing corporate cronies to high government positions (see examples A and B).

But as Ochenski correctly notes, there are many folks in Helena who lobby for non-profits and for the public interest on issues like the environment, education and health care. Should these lobbyists be banned from service too?

It’s true — Schweitzer is in a tough position. He’s trying to rid Montana politics of the all-too-familiar influence of well-financed corporations, but could be preventing good people from serving in government.

Then again, maybe the issue isn’t so gray, considering Montana’s history. The state’s politics has long been unduly influenced by large corporations like the Anaconda Company and Montana Power, with legislators regularly being wined and dined by the interests they are supposed to oversee. Even today, Ochenski notes “the Helena watering holes still serve liquor late into the night [to legislators] — and lots of it still winds up on corporate tabs.”

Sure, Schweitzer’s crusade against lobbyists’ revolving door may have a few unfortunate side effects. But then, wouldn’t Montana — and other states — be lucky if there were too few influenced officials in government, rather than too many?