Ex-lawmakers' lobbying looks bad, group saysBy Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
AUSTIN -- Former El Paso state Rep. Pat Haggerty has contracts worth as much as $425,000 to lobby his former colleagues, according to a report a political watchdog group released Wednesday.
"This kind of thing looks bad, it smells bad and it is bad, but the only control on it is self-regulation," said Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice.
Haggerty declined to comment for this story.
The group's report criticized what it called a revolving door between the Texas Legislature and lobbying jobs. It detailed contracts between 10 lawmakers who recently left the Legislature and groups that have special interests at the Capitol.
Wheat said lawmakers should approve regulations requiring a cooling- off period between the time legislators stop making laws and start lobbying their former colleagues.
"I think people rightfully wonder when did they stop being a lawmaker and when did they start to become a special-interest lobbyist," Wheat said.
He said the practice creates questions about whe ther lawmakers are making public policy decisions with their future lobbying jobs in mind.
"Is that legislator going to stand up to (a special interest) if they are contemplating a future career as a hired gun in Austin?" Wheat asked.
Haggerty, whose first term in the Texas House was in 1989, lost the Republican primary election last year to El Paso businessman Dee Margo. Margo then lost in the general election to Democrat Joe Moody.
This year, according to the report, Haggerty has signed eight lobbying contracts worth between $210,000 and $425,000.
His biggest client is Fort Worth-based Bingo Interest Group. Other clients include AT&T, tobacco giant American Reynolds Inc., and Licensed Beverage Distributors.
Other lawmakers-turned-lobbyists mentioned in the report include former state Rep. Mike Krusee, who was chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and former state Rep. Fred Hill, who was chairman of the House Local Government Ways and Means Committee.
It is a long-standing practice in Austin for lawmakers to become lobbyists after their political careers end.
Many of the most influential lobbyists at the Capitol are former lawmakers or high-level staffers, said Ross Ramsey, editor of the online political journal Texas Weekly.
For example, former state Sen. J.E. "Buster" Brown, who represents the Tiguas, has more than 22 lobbying contracts worth up to nearly $1.8 million, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports.
"They're people with the expertise, so it's easy to see why the private sector would want to hire them," Ramsey said.
Lawmakers, he said, are the only ones with the power to slow or limit the practice of legislators becoming lobbyists.
"We've been here for 160 years and they haven't fixed it yet, so they obviously don't think it's a problem," Ramsey said.