It's all relative

State lobby corps includes legislator spouses, offspring

By

 Updated:

Arkansas' term limits forced Mike Creekmore out of his job as a Democratic state representative in 2004, but he still has a strong connection to the General Assembly. His wife, Dawn Creekmore — also a Democrat — was elected to serve in his old seat in the next legislative session.

The spring following her election, Mike Creekmore was hired to lobby for a bill on behalf of pharmaceutical services company Caremark Rx. Dawn Creekmore was not on a committee that dealt with the bill, but "it was a little odd" to see her in the statehouse, according to her husband — not that it mattered, though. "She's a pretty independent thinker," he said.

Mike Creekmore terminated his lobbyist registration after a week, and the bill never made it out of committee.

The Creekmores are just one example of the family ties evident in the legislative and lobbying ranks of the nation's state capitols. Through its six-month investigation of state legislators-turned-lobbyists, the Center for Public Integrity found not only ex-lawmakers cashing in on legislative experience, but wives, husbands, sons and daughters of sitting legislators as well.

"A lawyer who marries a legislator gains access," said Drew Johnson, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

Johnson noted that in his state, Betty Anderson is "the most powerful lobbyist in the whole state." In 1995, she married Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, who has been a Democratic state legislator for 30 years and speaker of the House since 1991.

But concerns go beyond access. A lobbyist's compensation is dependent on his or her success at persuading legislators. If a lobbyist is married to a legislator, the lobbyist's compensation benefits both and creates a significant conflict of interest.

Relative worth

Lobbyist Thomas D. Kelsch is married to North Dakota state Republican Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch. Thomas Kelsch lobbied on behalf of General Motors during the first half of 2006; in 2005, his clients also included Anheuser-Busch and Western Wireless Corp., which was acquired that year by another telecom company, Alltel Corp. His wife serves on the Education and Transportation committees and is also is registered to lobby for Alltel in neighboring South Dakota this year.

Thomas Kelsch said he does not lobby the Education Committee, but has "from time to time" lobbied the Transportation Committee, and, therefore, his wife. "I have not been able to get my wife to vote the way I wanted … she's her own person and she has to answer to her constituents," he said.

However, the couple's jobs have put them in the occasional odd situation. Thomas Kelsch told the story of the day the North Dakota Travelers Association (for which he was a lawyer, but not a lobbyist) was being criticized by the speaker, who said the group's members were "trying to get in bed with the legislators." Later, when the speaker came up to him, the lobbyist said with a chuckle, "Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am in bed with my legislator."

A few other statehouse power couples include:

Brice Oakley is a former Iowa Republican state representative who now is a lobbyist and is married to current state Democratic Rep. Jo Oldson. When they married, Oldson was working for the governor, so they "learned early on how to build firewalls," Oakley said. "I don't need her to be a good lobbyist and she doesn't need me to be a good legislator." He said he does get one perk: "When I ride with her, I get a good parking place."

Martha Miller Harriman has been lobbying the Arkansas statehouse for more than two decades, including the 15 years her husband, former Democratic Sen. Morril Harriman served — ultimately as chairman of the Rules Committee and vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He resigned from his seat in 2000 after accepting a lobbying job with the Poultry Federation. They've been ranked among the top 10 lobbyists in the state by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

In 2003, Oregon state Republican Sen. John Minnis resigned to accept an appointment by the governor as director of the state police training facility, for which he is now a registered lobbyist. His wife, Karen Minnis was his legislative assistant for 12 years when he served as a representative and is now Republican speaker of the state House.

In 2003, LeTonia Armstrong, who lobbied for drug maker Eli Lilly, was appointed to the Tennessee Mental Health Planning Council. The council's responsibilities include recommending which drugs will be covered by TennCare, the state's public health care program. She is the wife of Democratic state Rep. Joe Armstrong who serves on the legislature's Joint TennCare Oversight Committee.

Born to lobby

Former Republican lawmaker Robert Tardy retired from the Maine House of Representatives in the mid-1990s. "My older son was an attorney, and he said I was wasting my experience and said I should be doing some lobbying," said Tardy. Later, that son, Josh Tardy, was elected as a Republican to the House, where he serves as assistant minority leader.

Robert Tardy lobbies for several companies and, in 2005 also represented the Maine Trial Lawyers Association. The lawyers' group supported a bill sponsored by his son that created a fund to pay for legal services for low-income citizens of the state.

Some other families in the government influence business are:

Lobbyist Robert Ray Jr., is son of Georgia state Rep. Robert Ray, D-Fort Valley. The younger Ray represents Flint Electric Membership Corp., a rural electric cooperative; the elder Ray was on the Appropriations, Agriculture and Rules committees in the 2006 legislative session.

Baylen Moore, a lobbyist for Bridgestone/Firestone, Scana Corp. and other companies, is the son of longtime South Carolina state Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater. The senator has served on the Judiciary, Commerce, Ethics and Rules committees, and ran for governor this year.

Family separation

Though South Carolina allows legislators' offspring to lobby, it is one state that restricts family lobbying. Although there was an unsuccessful attempt to delete the provision in 2001, a 1976 ethics law prohibits spouses of lawmakers from lobbying while the legislators are in office.

In Tennessee last year, an ethics bill initially included a measure that would have prohibited the spouses and minor children living in the homes of lawmakers and other state officials from earning income by lobbying. The provision was removed in conference committee, and the bill passed.

Connecticut has ruled in the opposite direction: there is even an advisory opinion stating that a relative can lobby a member of their own family.

The question arose in 2004 when a lobbyist began discussing, on a pro bono basis, legislation regarding outpatient surgical centers with a chairman of the joint Public Health Committee — of which her father was a member. The state ethics agency issued an advisory opinion stating that this situation did not violate conflict of interest prohibitions in the ethics law and that "[w]hile some might think it seems untoward to have a lobbyist lobbying his or her immediate family member, there is no provision of the Code that expressly prohibits such conduct. … In the absence of an express ban on lobbyists lobbying their family members, none will be found."

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now