This past week, the Dallas
Morning News revealed that a key figure who contributed to the
privatization of Texas' food stamp eligibility program is now
receiving taxpayer dollars to help fix the problems that the private
system created. regg Phillips, who was Deputy Commissioner at the Texas Health and Human
Services Commission (HHSC) and led the push for privatization a few
years ago, now heads AutoGov Inc., a company that has received $207,500
from the state government in the past four months to assist in
eliminating the errors in the provision and eligibility determination of
the state's food stamp program.
While the shenanigans of former U.S. Representative-turned-pharmaceutical lobbyist Billy Tauzin
and other legislators-turned-lobbyists make national headlines, the
abuse of power in the states often receive scant attention. A recent
decision by the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio reminds
us that the revolving door among legislators-turned-lobbyists is as
much a problem in the states as we hear about at the federal level.
In Georgia, former Democratic Leader Pete Robinson and former Republican Leader
Arthur Edge IV became pharmaceutical lobbyists after leaving office. More broadly, a third of federal lobbyists
hired by the drug companies are former government officials and pharma's state
lobbying army includes dozens of former state lawmakers.
Imposing a two-year moratorium before former legislators or other government
officials can become lobbyists prevents them from immediately leveraging their
relationships with government decision makers into lucrative careers
influencing their former colleagues. It also helps ensure that those
serving in government are truly interested in public service and not just
cashing in on the connections they make. Six states have imposed a
before former legislators can become lobbyists, while twenty states have
imposed a one-year moratorium.
Many states have suffered from public officials being involved in
ethics scandals. While sometimes there is talk of reform and other
overtures, comprehensive reform is most often elusive. However, some
states have managed, either in response to one particularly egregious
event or a history of problems being overturned in a wave of
dissatisfaction, to truly make a fundamental change. This year
Connecticut once again moved forward with a multi-year ethics reform
initiative, and Louisiana enacted one of the most far-reaching ethics
overhauls any state has in generations.
At the core of many voters' frustrations with government is the sense
that, too often, politics is for sale. High-priced lobbyists offering
"gifts" to lawmakers swarm state legislatures; companies looking for
public contracts get too cozy with those handing out public money; and
corporate campaign contributions grease the wheels as public policy is
auctioned to the highest corporate bidder.