March 19, 2012

Utah Ex-Lawmaker Says He Became Lobbyist Because He’s Like ‘A Drug Addict, You Can’t Quit Cold Turkey’

Utah Ex-Lawmaker Says He Became Lobbyist Because He's Like 'A Drug Addict, You Can't Quit Cold Turkey'
Former Utah State Sen. Mike Dmitrich says he lobbies for big corporations because, like a drug addict, he can't quit the legislature "cold turkey."

The Salt Lake Tribune today published a piece about Utah’s weak ethics laws surrounding the revolving door — where state lawmakers leave the legislature to become lobbyists.

The paper notes that the state officially requires lawmakers to wait one calendar year before becoming lobbyists. However, there is a loophole that allows these legislators to lobby individually or on behalf of businesses they are affiliated with (as long as the sole purpose of the business is not lobbying). Ethics groups have tried unsuccessfully to close this loophole for years.

The Tribune interviewed former Sen. Mike Dmitrich (D), who was the minority leader in the House and Senate at different points during his career. After retiring in 2008, he became a lobbyist just months later (the official cooling off period wasn’t enacted into law until 2009). He lobbies for clients such as AOL (based in Washington, D.C.) and Utah’s Phoenix Capital Management. He explained that the reason he became a lobbyist is because he’s like a “drug addict” to the legislature, and he can’t “quit cold turkey.” He then went on to say that he is always lobbying for taxpayer cash, which makes him “no different” than advocates for education:

After 40 years, like a drug addict, you can’t quit cold turkey, so I’m kind of going through a four-year withdrawal,” Dmitrich said. “Someone asked me what I miss about the Legislature and I jokingly said the parking spot and the chair.” […]  “You are always lobbying for money,” said Dmitrich, who successfully lobbied for funding for the Utah Shakespeare Festival this year. “Money is the issue, and we’re no different as lobbyists as someone else [who] is an advocate for education.”

Needless to say, most residents of the state would probably say that a former leading lawmaker arguing for taxpayer cash for big corporations is a little different than advocating for the state’s educational system. Yet lawmakers are unlikely to be able to quit passing through the revolving door and continuing to influence the legislature until the state truly reforms its ethics laws.

For more of the ridiculous things lobbyists say, click here.