Clean Government Efforts All Around Us

Coloradans aren’t the only Westerners to face a good government initiative on the ballot this fall. Our neighbors in Montana will vote on an initiative to prevent public officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after they leave office.

Backed by Democratic Gov. Brian Scwheitzer, the Montana Democratic Party, and a group called Montanans for Clean Government, it’s not exactly a stretch to speculate that the Democrats hope the initiative will help in efforts to turn out voters to help gain a Democratic majority in the legislature. Right now, Democrats control the Senate, 27 to 23, while the House has 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats.

Montana is also the site of one of the hottest Senate races in the nation, with Republican Sen. Conrad Burns squaring off against Democrat Jon Tester. Burns has been dogged by his connections to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Whatever the purely political motives, however, Schweitzer’s concern about ethics appears genuine. He has been a longtime critic of the influence of lobbyists in the legislature, refusing to appoint any lobbyists to state boards and commissions. And the initiative effort follows his failed attempt to get a similar measure through the Montana legislature.

The legislator-to-lobbyist career path may be accelerated in Montana because legislators are term-limited, points out Montana Common Cause, another initiative supporter. According to the group, as of 2004, Montana had 1,090 registered lobbyists in the state, and a lobbyist-to-legislator ratio of 7:1-the 12th highest in the country.

The Colorado lobbying initiative also features a two-year ban on legislators becoming lobbyists, in addition to a gift ban and the creation of an independent ethics commission.