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Public Citizen says Maryland’s ‘cooling-off period’ before lawmakers can become lobbyists is too short

Public Citizen says Maryland’s ‘cooling-off period’ before lawmakers can become lobbyists is too short
The Maryland House of Delegates holds a floor session at the State House in Annapolis in 2019. A new report is calling for a longer "cooling-off period" before ex-lawmakers can become lobbyists. (Paul W. Gillespie / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Maryland should impose a longer “cooling-off period" before state lawmakers can become lobbyists, according to the advocacy group Public Citizen.

Public Citizen reviewed policies in the federal government and all 50 states that are designed to limit the “revolving door” of politicians leaving office, only to return to the halls of government to lobby for private interests.

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Maryland is among 33 states that impose a one-year time limit before former state lawmakers can become lobbyists. Eight states have no restrictions at all.

Two years ago, Maryland lawmakers expanded the cooling-off period so that it also applies to the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general and treasurer, as part of a broad ethics reform bill.

In a new report for Public Citizen, authors Craig Holman and Caralyn Esser write that politicians-turned-lobbyists “have access to lawmakers that is not available to others, access that can be sold to the highest bidder among industries seeking to lobby.” That means that wealthy special interests can pay to gain access to government in ways “unavailable to the rest of the public,” they wrote.

Public Citizen praises cooling-off periods as a valuable tool, but says that one-year periods — such as in Maryland — are “clearly too short.”

Public Citizen suggests two years as a minimum cooling-off period.

Tierra D. Bradford, policy manager for the good-government advocacy group Common Cause Maryland, said the Public Citizen report addresses an important issue.

Bradford said Common Cause Maryland also endorses a cooling-off period of at least two years.

“It is important that a substantive amount of time passes between a public official’s time in office and any subsequent position lobbying on behalf of private entities,” she said.

Florida will impose a six-year cooling-off period starting at the end of 2022, believed to be the longest in the nation.

Public Citizen rates Iowa as having the best revolving-door policy, because its two-year cooling-off period applies to lawmakers, executive branch officials and their staffs.

Public Citizen ranks eight state’s as the “worst” for having no restrictions: Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming.

This article has been updated to clarify that Maryland’s cooling-off period also applies to several statewide elected officials.

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