Friday, January 12, 2007

Dan Quixote tilts at lobbying law

Sen. Dan McGee, R-Laurel, has decided to take on Initiative 153, passed by Montana voters in the last election. There was nary a Sancho Panza in sight, however, as he appears to stand alone for the time being.

He believes that this law, which prohibits legislators and certain other state government officials from becoming lobbyists for 2 years after leaving state government, is unconstitutional since it restricts free speech.

It certainly seems to be a restriction of free speech on the face of it -- but then so do the term limitations that made this initiative an especially bad idea.

Term limitations have created a revolving door that leaves the Montana legislature chronically short on experience in its lawmakers. Learning the legislative ropes takes time -- certainly more than the 90 days of a scheduled session.

Enter bureaucrats and lobbyists, who are the ones who understand the process better than the legislators themselves, and who have no term limitations. Like the inestimable "Permanent Secretary," Sir Humphrey Appleby, in the BBC television series "Yes, Minister", unelected government employees pull the strings when elected officials are uncertain of themselves and of the process.

By restricting legislators from becoming lobbyists during the time period when their understanding of the legislative process is freshest, the playing field is tilted even further in favor of the state bureaucratic apparatus, which is skilled at lobbying the legislature for what it wants and which has no restrictions on it whatsoever.

McGee is right. Which is a part of the reason why he has no chance at success.