Paid to play

Everybody hates lobbyists
By AL DIAMON  |  July 27, 2011

In a recent national survey that I totally made up, thousands of people were asked which of the following they would prefer to find between their sheets:

• Casey Anthony
• bed bugs
• a lobbyist

Not surprisingly, the lobbyist finished dead last. As one fictional respondent put it, "You can call the parole board on Anthony. You can call the exterminator on the bugs. But nobody you call is ever going to be able to rid your bedclothes of that lobbyist sleaze."

A majority of respondents said being paid to convince elected officials how to vote is the world's least respectable occupation — except for actually being an elected official.

Prostitutes are held in higher regard. Professional athletes on steroids are accorded more respect. Paul Violette — the former executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, now facing civil and criminal legal issues over his alleged use of public money for his personal benefit — is considered saintly when compared to a lobbyist.

What's weird is that this disdain isn't related to what a lobbyist really does. No reasonable person thinks there's anything wrong with petitioning legislators or members of Congress on issues great or small. It's an exercise in free speech, as fundamental to our democratic way of life as watching around-the-clock coverage of lurid trials or bombing the house with pesticides to eliminate annoying critters.

It isn't what lobbyists do that causes them to be held in contempt. It's that they get paid for it.

Which still doesn't explain why hookers get better ratings.

I mention all this because of the case of Republican state Senator David Trahan of Waldoboro, who has been considering the curious career choice of being simultaneously employed as both an elected official and a lobbyist.

Talk about low self-esteem.

Until recently, Trahan worked as a logger, an occupation far more respectable than hedge-fund manager, repo man, or political columnist. But making a living in the woods these days isn't easy, so Trahan has decided to become the new executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, a position several notches above being Charlie Sheen's publicist or Portland's mayor — except for one little detail:

One of the major tasks of SAM's director is to lobby the Legislature.

When Trahan first announced he was taking the position, he said he'd resign his Senate seat this fall to avoid any conflicts of interest. But almost immediately, he had second thoughts. If he called it quits, he'd still be involved in issues affecting fish and game, public lands, and environmental regulation, but he'd no longer have any role in the tax-reform debate.

Until now, Trahan, the co-chair of the Taxation Committee, has been the GOP point man on issues relating to Maine's tax system, matters that, for the most part, fall outside SAM's sphere of influence. If he quits the Legislature, he'll be as out of the loop as, well, ordinary taxpayers.

Last week, Trahan asked the state ethics commission if there was some way he could stay in office and still take the alliance job. (He's since said he doubts he'll follow that course.) There's no law against doing both, although there is an old state attorney general's memo that concludes there's an inherent conflict in lobbying and legislating at the same time.

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