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Wachs

Every poll you read tells us that public trust in elected officials is lower than a snake’s belly.

This should surprise no one. Politicians telling us they want to do what’s best for “the people” while being influenced by unlimited amounts of money from donors largely anonymous to the rest of us insults the intelligence of anyone paying attention.

Whether the checks are written by mining companies, public-employee unions, hospital groups, big business, big labor, environmentalists or whomever, the political process is poisoned to unprecedented levels by this obscene buying and selling of influence.

Although his effort may be largely symbolic even if it succeeds, state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, is trying again to get bipartisan support for a bill that would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for at least a year after leaving office. The “Revolving Door” bill, as Wachs called it in a press release, didn’t receive a hearing when he introduced it two years ago.

He hopes this time will be different. He reports 29 co-sponsors, including 11 Republicans. The bad news is there are 132 members of the state Legislature, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald is the brother of a former Assembly speaker who became a lobbyist two whole days after leaving office in January 2013.

In fact, Jeff Fitzgerald is one of three former Assembly speakers who were or are lobbyists for voucher school backers who successfully got the cap loosened — it will be eliminated entirely in 10 years — on tax-supported vouchers to help pull students and money from public schools. Scott Jensen and John Gard are the other two ex-speakers who turned lobbyists and were involved in pushing voucher legislation. Jim Bender, a former legislative staffer for Jeff Fitzgerald, is president of School Choice Wisconsin.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that as of 2013, more than 30 states have a waiting period — usually a year or two — before ex-lawmakers can become lobbyists. Wisconsin should join that group to at least buffer the possibility (probability?) of lawmakers cutting deals with legislative colleagues within days of — or even before — leaving office and setting up their lobbying businesses.

If you’ve followed the Legislature in recent years, you know the prospects for a bill introduced by a Democrat such as Wachs weaving its way through both Republican-controlled chambers and getting signed by GOP Gov. Scott Walker are about as likely as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson being honored by the national PTA as its Father of the Year.

But Republicans should sign on if for no other reason than it’s good public relations. With a recent Pew Research Center national poll showing 19 percent public confidence in government’s ability to do the right thing, this modest “time out” between legislating and lobbying your former colleagues would send a signal that leaving the Capitol one day and setting up shop across the street the next looking for favors doesn’t smell right.

— Don Huebscher, editor