If Term Limits Go Away, Then Lobbyists Will Play

term-limits-exit-nowThe following is a guest article by Nick Tomboulides, Executive Director of U.S. Term Limits:

No organization in the United States has more experience fighting for term limits, at the state and federal levels, than U.S. Term Limits. We’ve been doing it for decades, so it is hardly a surprise when a local grassroots group comes to us for help on how to defend term limits. We happily provide it, and do anything we can to publicize their courageous attempt to serve people over career politicians.

Arkansas Term Limits is one such group. After the Arkansas General Assembly shamelessly referred an anti-term limits amendment to the Nov. 2014 ballot under the guise of “ethics reform,” Arkansas citizens like Tim Jacob knew that they had to get active.

We took some initial steps to get the ball rolling — including sending letters to all members of the Assembly, alerting term limits supporters in Arkansas via email, adding Arkansas content to the Arkansas page of the U.S. Term Limits website, and writing a couple of op-eds for Arkansas papers.

Meanwhile, Jacob – who was one of the leaders of Arkansas’s successful term limits measure in 1992 – helped launch the political committee Arkansas Term Limits and took the reins of the effort. Jacob’s group is developing a social media presence, speaking at local meetings and on radio, contacting legislators, and taking other steps to alert fellow Arkansas of the deceptively captioned measure.

No dollars or cents changed hands. We assist in all educational term limits campaigns because we believe in them on principle.

However, it turns out Arkansas lobbyist Bradley Phillips has been spreading false rumors about Arkansas Term Limits on Twitter. These included his description of an extensive conspiracy theory that the group is funded by George Soros, or the Koch brothers, or other shadowy figures. In fact, the committee is made up entirely of Arkansas citizens, some of whom probably haven’t even heard of George Soros!

Phillips’ claim illustrates his desperation. He and other lobbyists see their opportunity to weaken term limits slipping away; every day, more citizens learn how this deceptively-captioned, anti-term-limits measure really works.

When lobbyists work to dilute term limits, they know what they’re doing. Since their inception, term limits have been the bane of lobbyists’ existence. By bringing new blood to the legislature, term limits sever the mutually beneficial relationships lobbyists form with incumbent legislators over time. Term limits also spread the resources of special interests over a larger number of competitive elections. As a result, with term limits special interests must expend more money and yet receive less influence for their efforts. 

Term limits make lobbyists work harder. Term limits ensure a constant influx of new ideas into government. Term limits force lobbyists to make arguments on the merits, rather than rely on sentimental relationships. Lobbyists don’t like that.

Phillips isn’t the only Arkansas lobbyist who groundlessly asserts that term limits will hamper lobbyists. Lobbyist Laurie Lee also recently challenged Arkansas’s term limits group on Twitter — stating not only that term limits empower lobbyists, but that anyone who votes is a lobbyist.

Not only does Ms. Lee fail to understand the effects of term limits on lobbyists, she doesn’t understand what lobbying is. Under Arkansas law, you become a lobbyist when you get paid to influence government action. Volunteer citizen groups who are working against the weakening of term limits don’t qualify – to say nothing of the voters – don’t qualify, and (unlike Ms. Lee) they certainly aren’t required to register as lobbyists.

When a similar attack on term limits appeared on the 2004 ballot in Arkansas, lobbyists and special interests rushed in to fund it as quickly as they could. Have a look. Phillips’s and Lee’s theory is presumably that all these lobbyists who supported the weakening of term limits wanted to weaken their own power. 

I have a different view: I think Phillips’s and Lee’s arguments are wrong and unserious. Why should anyone believe that lobbyists want to reduce their own influence?

The 2004 anti-term limits amendment lost in an absolute landslide, 70 percent to 30 percent. That’s the power of the people at work. Lobbyist money wasn’t enough.

Phillip’s and Lee’s favored argument is the same one legislators have used to justify sneaking the anti-term limits amendment onto the ballot. They say it improves ethics and cracks down on lobbying. Now might be a good time to ask yourself, “Wait a minute, why would that lobbyist want to crack down on lobbying? Did he take a new job?”

The answer is no. Lobbyists know that the ethics bill will enhance lobbyist power while giving politicians and special interests the chance to say things have been cleaned up.

In addition, the supposed “ethics” provisions are filled with holes that pose no threat to an adept lobbyist.

The amendment’s crown jewel is longer term limits. Since a large majority of House members cannot mathematically make it to the Senate, this bill buys them all an extra decade to develop a rapport with Bradley Phillips, Laurie Lee, and all the other influence peddlers in the state capitol.

But once again, Arkansans are organizing to protect their voter-initiated and approved (and re-approved!) term limits law via the Arkansas Term Limits committee. If you’re interested in term limits, you owe it to yourself to find out more about them.

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2 thoughts on “If Term Limits Go Away, Then Lobbyists Will Play

  • January 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    First, philosophically the basis for term limits seems skewed towards a big government, big brother mentality. Residents of one legislative district have no business telling residents of another district for whom they can or cannot vote to be their representative to the government. Even voters within a single district have no business telling another voter which candidates are allowed. To do so undercuts the very fabric of representative governance. Additionally, the whole premise that somehow term limits reduce lobbyist influence and power is naive and ill informed. Take a trip to the state of California sometime. They have had term limits for several years now. Every few years, you get a fresh crop of doe-eyed legislators who have little understanding of the system or the issues. Yet, all the political pressures and concerns remain. The result? The power of unelected staff members who have been around for 20 years and lobbyists with agendas is vastly enhanced.
    Attempts at artificially controlling democratic power with laws such as term limits or restrictions on campaign finances do not serve liberty, freedom or ethics. It merely empowers one group of insiders over another. Ultimately like all things in a republic, responsibility falls to the people. If voters are opposed to life time office holders, they should vote them out. If they don’t like the deals their rep is cutting, they should vote him/her out. But if they wish to keep their representative, their rights to vote for the person of their choice should be protected.

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