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Key lobbyists held government jobs, research shows Tiesto lawmakers, agencies raise concern about ethics, group says

By Terrence Stutz / 02-02-1999

AUSTIN - Many of Texas' highest--paid lobbyists are former legislators and agency chiefs, raking in millions of dollars by pushing special interests in state government, according to a new study.

Released Monday, the study by Texans for Public Justice identified 110 one-time lawmakers and state agency officials who are among the most-influential lobbyists in Austin.

Together, the 110 lobbyists earned up to $44 million in 1997 - an average of $397,000. The total is more than one-fifth of all lobby income for that year, though the group accounts for only 7 percent of all lobbyists.

"The Texas Legislature has become an elite, publicly financed finishing school for lobbyists," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics.

"Austin's well-greased "revolving door' raises serious ethical questions," he said. "Citizens need to know whether lawmakers and other officials are working for them or for some future employer."

"Revolving door" is a phrase used to describe government officials who leave office and then return to lobby their former body or agency on behalf of businesses or other interests that pay them.

The group's report, "Texas Revolvers," profiles the top 10 ex-- legislator lobbyists and top 10 ex--state official lobbyists.

It also describes the activities of the "dean of Texas revolver lobby," former Gov. Ann Richards, whose national clients include major defense contractors, tobacco companies and shopping center developers.

Among the former lawmakers, the top two in terms of earnings for 1997 were former Rep. Neal "Buddy" Jones, paid up to $1.8 million by his clients, and former House Speaker Gib Lewis, who had lobbying contracts of up to $1.5 million.

Among Mr. Jones' clients were Fort Worth millionaires Lee and Perry Bass, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Farmers Insurance Group and AT&T.

Mr. Lewis had among his clients D/FW International Airport, Allied Waste Systems, Texas Motor Speedway and Enron Capital & Trade Resources.

State lawmakers in Texas now earn $7,200 a year plus an allowance for per diem expenses.

Topping the list of ex--state official lobbyists were two former state insurance commissioners, A.W. "Woody" Pogue and Thomas Bond. Each had lobbying contracts in 1997 worth up to $2.8 million.

Two former state railroad commissioners also did well as lobbyists. Mack Wallace was paid up to $1.6 million by his clients, and Mary Scott Nabors made up to $1.4 million, according to the study.

Texans for Public Justice on Monday called for new lobbying restrictions to "close the revolving door" and "restore public confidence" in state government. Among the recommendations are a lifetime ban on paid lobbying by former members of the Legislature.

Also proposed is a lifetime ban on lobbying for governors, lieutenant governors and state agency officials.

The only law on the books in Texas is a 1991 statute that prohibits agency heads and governing board members from lobbying their agency for two years after leaving office.

"We are not very optimistic that anything will happen this year, " Mr. McDonald said.

Two former lawmakers who are on the top 10 list said it is the Legislature that will have to determine whether it wants any restrictions.

"That is a decision for the Legislature to make, and I am sure they will make the right decision," said Mr. Jones, who was elected to the House from Hillsboro.

"I don't see any burning policy need for this, but that is what legislators are here for."

Cliff Johnson, a former House member from Palestine, acknowledged that lobbyists with experience in government offer a valuable perspective for clients.

Regarding revolving-door restrictions, Mr. Johnson said, "That is the purview of the Legislature, and whatever they determine is what we will do."

He said lobbyists have been around "from the time of Caesar."

State Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, sponsored a bill two years ago that would have added legislators to the list of those prohibited from lobbying for two years after leaving office.

"We didn't even get a hearing on it," said Mr. Moncrief, who added that he was unsure whether he would file similar legislation this year.

"I will look at it again," he said. "I still think it is something we need to do. It would send the right message to the people of this state."

Gov. George W. Bush and former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock adopted voluntary one-year revolving-door prohibitions for senior staff members a few years ago.

Lt. Gov. Rick Perry said he is considering an extension of Mr. Bullock's policy for his staff.

"We are working with our ethics group now to finalize our position, " Mr. Perry said. "I think we are going to have at least a year minimum before any staff member of the lieutenant governor's office could lobby."

The lobby study also found that the 1,662 registered lobbyists in Texas reported up to $210 million in income in 1997. They represented about 2,304 clients.


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