During the 85th Session of the Texas Legislature, a slew of bills have been filed which aim to curb the practice of “revolving door lobbyists.” The term “revolving door lobbyists” refers to former elected officials who now work as lobbyists. They are paid to form relationships with members of the legislature and key staff to influence them on specific policies or legislation.
It is a common practice for former members of the legislature, following their retirement or defeat at the ballot box by voters, to return immediately to the Capitol as lobbyists. Such an immediate return ensures that the influence the former member built up while in office is still valuable. Most of the players are still around, and the former members are now part of the even-more-powerful Capitol lobby crowd.
Who hires former members? A recent example is the Texas Associations of Realtors. The Realtors have hired three former committee chairmen and the former chief of staff for Speaker Joe Straus to lobby on behalf of realtors statewide. Former State Representative John Otto served as the Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations (the budget committee) during the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature. Unexpectedly, Chairman Otto retired at the end of the last legislative session, and since joining the Texas Associations of Realtors, is one of the latest examples of a “revolving door lobbyist.”
Former Ways and Means Chairman, State Representative Wayne Smith was also recently sighted in the Capitol and revealed to be on the payroll of several emergency districts in Harris County, along with other lobby clients.
When former legislators become lobbyists for powerful entities, they will often advise that entity on how to disseminate its political money as well. For example, the Texas Association of Realtors Political Action Committee currently has over $6.7 million in cash-on-hand. Thus, despite no longer serving the people of Texas, former legislators like State Rep. Otto still carry considerable weight and influence over the policies of the State of Texas. And this time, there’s nothing voters can do about it.
But other legislators can and are taking action. Two bills by State Senator Van Taylor – Senate Bill 14 and Senate Bill 504 – place a hiatus on former members of the legislature from lobbying their colleagues for two years after the elected official leaves office. This essentially encompasses one legislative session. Both bills have already passed the Texas Senate and are awaiting action in the Texas House. Similar bills have been filed in the House by State Representative Angie Chen Button and State Representative Pat Fallon.
Our How It Works series pulls back the curtain on the inter-workings of state government by identifying who’s involved, defining what they do, and explaining the motivations behind their actions.