Friday, November 9, 2007

The blur between government and corporate lobbyists

In his farewell speech three days before leaving office in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex" and "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power" that could "endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

Ike could not envision then a more sinister political phenomenon that's emerged over the past generation—the powerful influence on state and federal government by corporate lobbyists and the billions of dollars in political campaign donations to willing political allies they control.

Some 30,000 lobbyists are registered in Washington.

In Idaho, there are nearly 400, with eight new names joining the roster from the usual training ground—elected or appointed government office.

In the past 18 months, former state legislators and members of Idaho governors' staffs have signed on as lobbyists for corporations doing business in the state and needing influence in just the right places.

Gov. Butch Otter's chief aide, Jeff Malmen, is the latest, headed for a cushier, higher-paying job with Idaho Power. Oddly, Micron Technology's corporate lobbyist, Jason Kreizenbeck, is replacing Malmen in the governor's office.

So, Idaho Power will have a man on its payroll who has the ear of the Idaho governor and most state legislators, and Micron will have one of its own inside the governor's office.

Ordinary taxpayers should be so lucky to have this sort of access.

Not all lobbying raises ethics questions. Lobbying for good government through better legislative action is the noble calling of many nonprofit organizations seeking to improve the lot of people.

However, the revolving door that enables elected officials and political appointees to leap back and forth between public service and the corporation world creates uncomfortably incestuous relations.

Idaho has virtually no oversight laws regarding the revolving door between corporate groups and government officials that might be useful in the future. There is no waiting period in place for would-be lobbyists to deter the door's rotation. The only requirement now is that lobbyists register with the secretary of state and report expenses, including entertainment and meals. There is also no requirement to report on whom money is spent.

The Idaho Legislature should enact rules that make lobbying in Idaho transparent, auditable and not too close for comfort—prudent precautions that would ensure that to keep Idaho's lobbying-corporation-government complex honest.

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