Revolving Door Laws
By Peggy Kerns
View the original NCSL Legisbrief Revolving Door Laws, October 2001. More
Updated January 2012
How long should an ex-legislator have to wait-or "cool off"-before returning to the capitol to lobby his or her former peers? Or is any cooling off period necessary? When they leave office, some legislators have opportunities to become independent lobbyists. They also might be attracted to government affairs positions with trade associations, businesses or nonprofits. These jobs offer a way for former lawmakers to stay involved in the public arena and to use their expertise in certain policy areas. They also get to use a well-honed skill-effectively communicating a point of view.
Many states have decided that lawmakers need a "cooling-off period" before they can come back to work at the legislature as a lobbyist. Known as revolving door laws, these statutes put restrictions on the amount of time that has to elapse before former lawmakers can appear before the public body that they just left. The purpose is to break the connection between the legislator's professional duties and the interest of specific groups or organizations. At least 17 states restrict former legislators from lobbying for one year after leaving office and seven states have two-year restrictions. Maryland law bans lobbying until the conclusion of the next regular session that begins after the member leaves office. North Carolina bans lobbying for six months. There is some form of restriction on former members in 35 states.
Proponents Say. Proponents of these laws say they are needed to keep former legislators from using their government connections to benefit themselves, their clients or their business interests after they leave office. Allowing a period of time before accepting a lobbying job can lessen any suspicion that a legislator is beholden to any special interest. They worry that legislators might use their current office to set up future jobs. In doing so, those legislators might try to ingratiate themselves with firms by cozying up to their interests. This appearance factor is important, proponents say, to curb the public's skepticism about public officials.
Opponents Say. Critics say that revolving door provisions are unfair to legislators. They add that, in fact, legislators who have good character and qualifications-who have proved themselves under fire-make effective lobbyists. Among their arguments is that only the better legislator who is trustworthy and reliable is able to become a successful lobbyist. Lawmakers acquire a expertise in specific policy areas and understand the political process. Often the relationships they have with their colleagues give them access that may not be immediately available to someone else.
States make a distinction between lobbying for compensation and volunteering one's services. Washington, for example, specifically states that voluntary assistance to a person or nonprofit is permissible. Some states go even further than a strict one- or two-year lobbying ban. Alaska's Constitution prohibits for one year former legislators from being "nominated, elected or appointed to any office or position of profit which has been created or the salary or emoluments of which have been increased" during their term of office.
Arizona has a one-year ban on lobbying, but a two-year ban on former public officials, including legislators, from disclosing or using for personal profit any confidential information. Kansas' one-year ban includes a prohibition on being involved in any contract funded while the legislator was in office and a ban on representing any person in a court proceeding on certain legislative actions. Mississippi is another state that has placed bans on former public servants being involved with any contract with the state that was authorized by laws passed while they were in office.
Kansas restricts former legislators from civil state appointments to an office that was created in their last term. Massachusetts prohibits former public officials from appearing personally for one year in connection with any particular matter that was under their official responsibility for two years prior to leaving office. In addition to its one-year ban on lobbying, New Mexico permanently prohibits former public officers from representing a person in dealings with the government on a matter in which they participated personally and substantially while in office. In South Dakota, violation of the one-year lobbying ban is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Even though 19 states have no specific lobbying ban, some make references in law to employment opportunities and possible conflicts. Arkansas prohibits public officials from using their positions to secure employment where they might have to disclose confidential information, (e.g. confidential information gained through the legislative process). Illinois does not allow legislators to accept any economic opportunity if they know there is a substantial possibility that the offer is made to influence their official duties. Oregon and Texas have similar laws.
A 50-state table with statutory references is on the Center for Ethics in Government's Web site: www.ncsl.org/ethics under the Contents heading, Ethics Information for the States. The file is called "Prohibition Against Legislators Lobbying Government After They Leave Office."
Rosenthal, Alan. Drawing the Line. Lincoln, Neb., and London, England: University of Nebraska Press, Twentieth Century Fund Book, 1996.
Contacts for More Information
Peggy Kerns, Director
NCSL Center for Ethics in Government
Phone: 303 856-1447