Oiling the revolving door

Oiling the revolving door

- in Fitzsimon File

Former House Speaker and longtime member of the House Harold Brubaker announced July 12th that he was stepping down from the seat he has held since 1977. The timing wasn’t an accident.

Brubaker plans to begin lobbying his former colleagues in 2013 and the law requires a six-month cooling off period before former lawmakers can register as lobbyists at the General Assembly.

Most of the attention about Brubaker’s resignation focused on his long career in Raleigh and his election in 1994 as the only Republican Speaker of the House in the 20th century.

That’s certainly worth some discussion but as you have read here before, the fact that he is leaving with roughly six months left in his term makes a mockery of the cooling off period.

Good government advocates have long pushed for at least a two-year waiting period, but lawmakers refused to adopt it as part of an overhaul of lobbying laws several years ago.

It is hard not to think that Brubaker will be in high demand as a lobbyist for wealthy special interests the first day he is eligible. Not only was Brubaker a member of the House majority for the last two years, he was the chief budget-writer and Speaker Thom Tillis has called him his mentor.

Tillis is almost certain to seek another term as Speaker and what group seeking the influence legislative leaders wouldn’t want to hire the Speaker’s mentor to help grease the skids for legislation?

But that’s not all that makes Brubaker’s two-step through the revolving door unusual. Like many powerful members of the House with no serious opposition, he has raised significant amounts of campaign money—especially from political action committees.

According to a campaign finance report the State Board of Elections received from Brubaker the day after he announced his resignation and upcoming lobbying career, his campaign had raised just over $195,000 this election cycle, with $130,000 of it from PACs trying to buy influence in Raleigh.

That most recent report also details how Brubaker spent his campaign dollars in the second quarter of the year. He gave $80,500 to other candidates and political committees, including $30,000 to the N.C. Republican Party.

That money shuffling is troubling, but not unusual. Powerful legislators raise money and then give it to their party or dole it out to individual candidates all the time. It’s a legal way that wealthy donors can get around the $4,000 limit on individual contributions.

What makes Brubaker’s case unique is that he was giving thousands of dollars from his campaign to legislative candidates just a couple weeks before he made public his plans to lobby them in 2013.

Lobbyists are prohibited from making political contributions to legislators. But there is no law against people who plan to become a lobbyist making the donations, even if they have already announced their intentions to patrol the halls on behalf of their clients in the next session.

Brubaker’s campaign account is still open and there’s just over $40,000 in it. Lawmakers who retire with funds in their campaign treasury can legally give them to other candidates in amounts of up to $4,000.

But there’s something a bit odd about a powerful politician doling out money to people he has already said he would be lobbying in just a few months.

The whole episode raises new issues not only about the need to slow the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying, but to prevent people from using campaign contributions to make the transition easier for the lawmaker turning influence peddler.