Legislation aims to discourage lawmakers leaving office for lobbying jobs

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston (center), seen here on May 20, 2013, has introduced legislation aimed at discouraging legislators from departing office early for lobbying jobs. (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston (center), seen here on May 20, 2013, has introduced legislation aimed at discouraging legislators from departing office early for lobbying jobs. (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, filed legislation Thursday aimed at discouraging lawmakers from leaving office early for lobbying positions, following a summer where several elected officials did just that.

Under current law, legislators who leave their office early are forbidden from lobbying their former chamber for two years, but can lobby members of the other chamber. For example, a House member who leaves in the middle of his or her term could not lobby representatives for two years, but could lobby senators. Marsh’s bill would extend the two-year ban to both chambers of the Legislature.

“When someone is elected to public office, they owe it to voters to finish their term,” Marsh said in a statement. “Leaving office early to become a lobbyist ultimately casts a bad light on the majority of lawmakers who have a genuine interest in serving their constituents.”

If a prosecutor can prove intent, a violator would be guilty of a Class B Felony, which carries the possibility of up to 20 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. The law would take effect upon passage.

A number of lawmakers resigned their positions over the summertime to take lobbying or consulting jobs. Former Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, who chaired the House’s education budget committee, resigned Aug. 1 to take a job with the Business Education Alliance, a new organization with ties to the Business Council of Alabama. Former Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, also resigned to take a job with a lobbying firm.

A run-off election to fill Love’s north-central Montgomery seat is scheduled for Nov. 19.

Constitutional officers already face the two-year ban in lobbying their former offices. Secretary of State Beth Chapman stepped down earlier in the summer to take a political consulting job with the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Jim Sumner, the executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, who worked with Marsh on the bill, said the current loophole stemmed from a 1995 revision of state ethics laws.

“(Marsh’s bill) takes us to the original intent of the bill, and I applaud Sen. Marsh for it,” he said.

The Legislature will reconvene on Jan. 14.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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