Editorial: Lawmakers should fix double standard in lobbying law

A former Oregon legislator who wants to lobby lawmakers in the statehouse must wait out one legislative session, a so-called “cooling off” period.

But if that same former legislator goes to work for the government — say, in the governor’s office — lobbying can commence right away, no cooling off needed.

Why the double standard?

That’s the question raised by recent rulings surrounding former Rep. Peter Buckley’s new job as Gov. Kate Brown’s budget adviser. Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, left the Legislature in January. By March, he had his new part-time post, focusing on long-term approaches to the state’s budget woes.

The governor decided Buckley shouldn’t talk with lawmakers about the budget until she got clearance from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. She expected an opinion saying he wouldn’t be affected by a 2007 law she championed to block legislators from leaving the House or Senate and immediately turning to lobbying their former colleagues.

An initial opinion from the Legislative Counsel’s office didn’t give the governor what she expected, but the ethics commission came through last week, declaring that the law applies to those who go to work for private interests, not government interests.

The ethics commission’s legal analysis is complex and at least somewhat convincing about what the law actually says.

But that doesn’t mean the law is right.

What’s so different about lobbying former colleagues to adopt the position of some government agency or office, versus lobbying them for a private company or organization? In both cases the former legislator is paid — whether by salary or contract — to try to influence lawmakers to advance one interest or position over another.

Ironically, after getting the opinion she expected, the governor says she doesn’t intend to have Buckley do any lobbying this session, which is now half over. But now she and other government agencies have a green light to engage in the very “revolving door” between Legislature and lobbyists that the law appeared designed to prevent.

If the law really says that’s OK, it’s time to fix the law.

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