Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Trent Lott Effect

From Marc Korman:

Back in December, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott resigned from Congress less than a year into his fourth term. Most have speculated that his motivation was to leave the Senate before the lobbying ban for former Senators was extended from one year to two years. Regardless of whether Senator Lott was trying to beat the ban, there was a financial motivation to his decision to leave the Senate during his term and enter the lucrative world of lobbying. Recently, rumors have spread that Congressman Richard Baker of Louisiana may follow Senator Lott out the door in the middle of his term.

Here in Montgomery County, we have already experienced two examples of the Trent Lott Effect.

In 2005, Delegate John Hurson from District 18 resigned his seat mid way through his fourth term to become Executive Vice President of the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association. Last year, Senator PJ Hogan of District 39 left his seat less than a year into his third term to become Associate Vice Chancellor for Government Relations at the University of Maryland. Both lobbying jobs. Their resignations have contributed to the large increase in Montgomery County legislative vacancies filled by appointments. Prior to John Hurson's departure, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee has no record of a legislator resigning to take a lobbying position. These two resignations may be part of a disturbing trend of legislators leaving during their terms to lobby.

Lobbying has exploded in recent years. Since 2000, the number of registered lobbyists in Washington, DC has doubled according to the Washington Post. While not as extreme, states have also seen an increase in lobbying which creates increased opportunities. According to the Center for Public Integrity, state lobbyists increased spending by 10% between 2005 and 2006. There were three lobbyists per every legislator in Annapolis in 2006.

Until recently, lobbying opportunities were taken up by retiring legislators, not those currently in office. There may be many motivations for leaving the legislature to go into lobbying, including a lighter schedule and less political stress. However, there are also financial reasons.

Maryland has a citizen legislature which meets for a minimum of 90 days each year. Maryland legislators make $43,500 per year, plus $500 for expenses and a per diem and living allowance while in session. If Maryland legislators really only worked for 90 days, than this amount would be more than sufficient. Of course, Maryland legislators work year round as legislators and in their day jobs. In many cases, their day job opportunities are limited by their elected office. Legislators spend nights and weekends in and out of session at public events, meetings with constituents, hearings, and working on and writing legislation. Special sessions can also be called at any time. Legislators must also spend a good deal of time on the political aspects of their jobs. This salary and workload simply cannot complete with lobbying.

Given the growth of lobbying and the low pay and long hours of legislating, the years ahead will undoubtedly see the Trent Lott Effect continue to play out in Maryland and other states. This could lead to more vacancies mid-term and a brain drain from the legislature, both serious causes of concern.