That swooshing sound you hear in Raleigh these days is the revolving door between government and private industry spinning away, as legislators and top administration officials are cashing in, taking their taxpayer-funded experience and insider knowledge and using it on behalf of private corporations to influence the government in which they used to serve.
When Senator Thom Goolsby resigned a few weeks ago with four months left in his two year legislative term, he said his family needed him at home in Wilmington and that he was heading back to spend time with them and work in his local law firm.
This week Goolsby told the Insider that he was opening a lobbying practice in addition to his legal work. That explains his resignation before his term ended. State law imposes a six-month waiting period for legislators before they can register to lobby their colleagues.
The timing of Goolsby’s departure means he can start roaming the legislative halls on behalf of private clients early in February, just as the 2015 General Assembly session begins.
It also means that if Governor Pat McCrory calls lawmakers into special session before the end of the year—and there is widespread speculation that a session on economic development is likely—that Goolsby won’t be there to fulfill a commitment he made to the voters in his district.
It’s also worth noting that most lobbyists spend as much time at the Legislative Building in Raleigh as members of the House and Senate, so his family might not be seeing him too much more next year after all.
The more important issue is the ridiculously short cooling off period required of legislators. Six months is nothing as Goolsby’s cynical resignation makes clear. It is in effect no waiting period at all.
Goolsby’s announcement that he’s entering the lobbying world comes the same week as former House Speaker Harold Brubaker was named the most influential lobbyist in Raleigh with his long list of well-heeled corporate clients.
Brubaker resigned before the end of his term in 2012 so he could start being paid to influence his colleagues in the 2013 session and he has been using his influence and counting his money ever since.
And it’s not just members of the General Assembly cashing in.
Mardy Peal, hired last year by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos to help with the state’s Medicaid reform efforts, announced this week she that is leaving the department to spend more time with her family.
The next day came the not so surprising news that Peal was going to work as head of business development at WellCare, a health maintenance organization that works in the Medicaid area. What a coincidence.
Conceivably WellCare could be bidding for a massive contract from the state if efforts to privatize the Medicaid program are successful. Who better to help the company get a contract than a well-connected insider from the department?
And Peal is not the first high-ranking DHHS official to leave for WellCare. Former Medicaid Director Carol Steckel left last fall to go to work for the company that now seems well positioned if the privatization scheme moves forward. Maybe the company can hire Goolsby and Brubaker as their lobbyists.
There is nothing in state law that prohibits top officials from going to work for a company that they dealt with in their official capacity. There’s no waiting period either. Legislation that would have prevented the obvious ethical conflict was introduced in the House in 2013 but didn’t get very far.
A DHHS spokesperson told WRAL-TV there were not any “particular concerns” with Peal taking her insider knowledge to a company that may be seeking business with the state. And there hasn’t been much of an outcry about Goolsby’s announcement either.
It’s business as usual in Raleigh. The revolving door of insider influence and money is spinning away, with every turn further eroding public confidence in our democracy.
Chris Fitzsimon is a frequent contributor to N.C. Policy Watch and N.C. Spin.