If state Sen. Lou Correa has his way, California’s lobby ban on elected officials might soon be tightened to include members of the public who are appointed to boards like the Orange County Transportation Authority.
In an interview Sept. 29, Correa said he is considering introducing legislation requiring public members to wait the same 12 months as elected officials before lobbying their former colleagues.
Correa’s comments followed a Voice of OC article that detailed revolving-door lobbying by former OCTA public member Peter Buffa. Buffa abruptly resigned from the agency earlier this year and within weeks was meeting with OCTA officials for the investment banking giant Barclays Capital.
Correa, who chairs the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, said Buffa’s case highlights a loophole in the law that should be closed.
“It clearly gives the sense of an individual making these trips on taxpayers’ expense and then turns around and goes to work with one of these firms that are doing business with the agency,” said Correa. “Yeah, those of us in public life would question that.”
While Correa called Buffa “a smart guy” and said he’s worked with him in the past, he didn’t agree on his lobbying on behalf of the private sector so quickly after leaving office.
“No, that’s not appropriate behavior. That’s the standard we legislators hold ourselves to,” Correa said.
Correa notes that the so-called revolving-door law has been controversial since it was passed in 2005. At the time, many lawmakers argued that banning them from contact with policymakers for a year is unfair because it restricts their ability to earn a living. But, Correa said, given the special nature of public service and the potential impact on public coffers from insider deals, the ban makes sense.
The lobbying ban was an issue locally earlier this year when a Voice of OC article revealed that former state Sen. Dick Ackerman had contact with his former colleagues in the Legislature about the Orange County Fairgrounds before and after key votes in 2009. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating the incident.
The new rules Correa is considering could have wide-ranging impact on political appointees at various levels of government.
“I’m exploring possible legislation that would say those individuals — not just electeds but everyone who files a 700 [conflict-of-interest disclosure] form — may face the same cooling-off period as elected officials, preventing them from lobbying agencies they’ve represented,” he said.
That kind of ban could include many top officials who are appointed as well as those serving at senior levels of government bureaucracies.
“I’d bet you if you asked the average citizen if that kind of law makes sense, you’d get a 99-percent approval rate,” Correa said.
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.