Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin shared first with Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette yesterday the expected news that he’d cash in on his congressional service as so many others have done and go to work for a high-powered political outfit whose subsidiaries include a lobbying firm.
Griffin came equipped with a legal opinion that no state law prevented Griffin from going to work, at an unspecified rate, for a consulting firm. Of course. (CORRECTION: I wrote in error originally that there perhaps was a way for a lieutenant governor to lobby in the state. There is a specific statutory prohibition on that, though it’s unclear if it applies only to state lobbying, rather than federal lobbying.)
Federal law prohibits a congressman from immediately becoming a lobbyist, though in time, the roll is long of those who do. In the meantime, he’s doing what the likes of Mike Ross, Tim Hutchinson, Blanche Lincoln and many others have done. Take a “strategic communications” or “governmental affairs” or “consulting” job. If the work doesn’t technically fit the definition of lobbying, be sure that the aim is the same. It’s to take congressional time, experience and contacts and put them to work to advance the interests of major corporate clients who can better support the Griffin family than taxpayers.
Griffin has always been a political creature. He holds a law degree, but his time in actual nuts-and-bolts legal work has been scant. He spent most of his early working years as a political hit man for the Republican Party, including the Rove White House. He’s done “consulting” work previously, including on behalf of major polluters hoping to exploit Alaskan natural resources.
The lipstick put on this pig of a consulting gig by a friendly legal opinion doesn’t make it any more or less than what it is — selling his congressional service to the influence-peddling industry.
Take a gander at the long list of others who’ve gone down this path.
Griffin said his “consulting” work won’t conflict with his public job. No, because there’s nothing to do in the job. It does give his corporate clients a man with a phone and office right inside the Capitol dome, however. Convenient. He must use his cell phone to handle calls, though, not a state phone line. And maybe step out in the hall.
His paymaster is Purple Strategies of Alexandria, Va. He’s described in the D-G as “an Arkansas-based senior adviser for communications and growth strategies for business clients.” He said he’s going to help big clients like BP and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “solve complex problems” and “grow and compete.” The firm was founded by a Republican and a Democratic strategist to pull clients from both ends of the political spectrum. Griffin falls on the end of founder Alex Castellanos, who was media man for George W. Bush when Griffin worked in Bush’s war room.
Nominally, House members must wait a year to become full-fledged lobbyists and senators two years. But dozens have slid seamlessly into jobs that, to the naked eye, seem remarkably similar. USA Today wrote in 2013, the last time it tallied the “revolving door” syndrome:
Sixteen lawmakers who left Congress recently have landed posts with groups that seek to influence policy — despite rules aimed at slowing the revolving door between Capitol Hill and lobbying firms, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Former House members are barred from lobbying their former colleagues for a year; and former senators, for two years. There are no restrictions, however, on providing behind-the-scenes advice to corporations and others seeking to shape federal legislation.
Griffin said if any conflicts arise he’ll consult the Ethics Commission and his lawyer and recuse if necessary. If he’d just vow not to come to work at all, everything would be copacetic. The state got by without Mark Darr for a year, none the worse for the wear.
Griffin should let a reporter spend a week with him on his consulting job to get a better idea of specifically what it entails. Nothing to hide, right?
Same challenge for former Rep. John Burris, who’s also hit the Capitol revolving door to become a “consultant.” Please don’t call him a lobbyist. That wouldn’t be legal.
UPDATE: I asked Griffin’s office for a copy of the legal opinion he received. I got this response from his chief of staff, Annamarie Atwood:
The opinion was not done in Lieutenant Governor Griffin’s official capacity, but I will pass along this request to him.
I hope he provides it, in the interest of transparency, since it has a direct bearing on his taxpayer-financed job. In the past, Griffin has rarely responded to questions from press critics.
UPDATE II: I take it all back. Griffin promptly responded to my request for a copy of his attorney’s ethical advice.