Lawmakers still taking jobs with lobbying firms, despite ethics amendment

In 2018, a state commission in Florida loaded the ballot with amendments. One of those amendments -- Amendment 12 -- changed the ethics rules for politicians in state government. 

Amendment 12 said elected state officials would have to wait six years after they left office before they could work as a lobbyist at the state or federal level. The idea was to close the revolving door in state politics.

By ‘revolving door,’ we mean when special interests lobby the lawmakers, then on their way out the door, lawmakers take jobs with those same special interests to lobby their former colleagues.

Government watchdogs say it can create situations in which legislators do the bidding of lobbyists to audition for future jobs with their firms. 

Integrity Florida’s Ben Wilcox says it can also put pressure on lawmakers when their former leaders come asking for favors. 

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"People that they may have helped rise through the political ranks and might owe them something," Wilcox explained.

Voters strongly agreed and passed Amendment 12 with 79% of the vote. It extends the length of time legislators have to wait in order to lobby the state. 

Instead of waiting two years after they serve, Amendment 12 will require legislators to wait six years after they serve. It also adds a six-year ban on lobbying for leaders of the state agencies. 

But that’s not yet stopping the revolving door in state government. 

For example, Mary Mayhew left her job as secretary of state health care administration this year to lead the state hospital lobby. 

Former South Florida representative Holly Raschein left office this year and now lobbies for a disaster recovery firm. 

Former Central Florida State Representative David Santiago left office in November and now works for a firm that lobbies for the insurance industry. 

Oscar Braynon also left the Senate this year to join another lobbying firm.

They’re not alone. 

"There are loopholes people can take advantage of," Wilcox offered.

Wilcox says some former lawmakers register to lobby local governments, then wait until the state ban expires to register to lobby the legislature. That’s how the existing two-year ban does not apply.

And the six-year ban passed through Amendment 12 does not begin until 2022 because the sponsor didn’t want state leaders to misinterpret his intent. 

"The reason he delayed the implementation is he didn’t want sitting officials to feel like they were being targeted," Wilcox said.

Mayhew was able to join the hospital lobby because the existing prohibitions don’t apply to executive leadership, and she has not registered as a lobbyist herself.  

But change is coming for appointed and elected state officials in 2022 when Amendment 12 kicks in.  

"When it does take effect, it will the longest prohibition of any state in the country and that’s a pretty big deal," Wilcox added.