Former N.C. Rep. Drew Saunders gets to start lobbying six months after he leaves office instead of a year after stepping down thanks to a change in the law that he pushed through.
Saunders, a Democrat from Huntersville, resigned his House seat at the end of October in order to take a $110,000-a-year job with Electricities, a nonprofit umbrella group for municipal power companies in the state. The firm expects he will register as a lobbyist after the required six-month cooling off period between holding office and lobbying.
Saunders lost in the May Democratic primary to Rep.-elect Nick Mackey, so he was leaving office at the end of the year.
Regardless of when his term ended, he would have been required to take a yearlong break between legislating and lobbying under the state ethics law being debated in the House in 2006. That cooling off period was cut to six months thanks to a proposal by Saunders.
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At the time, Saunders complained that the ethics bill “treats legislators like dirt.” This was around the same time that Saunders criticized the bill's ban on accepting gifts from lobbyists by saying: “Even the baby Jesus accepted gifts, and I don't think it corrupted him.”
Saunders on Wednesday said he “certainly didn't anticipate” his new job when he proposed the shorter cooling off period.
His criticism of the ethics bill arose from his background in human resources, as he didn't think lawmakers should restrict how former legislators sustain themselves, he said.
“We were down there talking about jobs, jobs, jobs,” Saunders said, “and then we're restricting people on how they make a living.”
Saunders' move contributes to undermining the public's confidence that the 2006 legislation fixed many of the problems with the state's ethics laws, said Bob Phillips, executive director of the nonpartisan Common Cause North Carolina and a chief advocate for the 2006 law.
“We have one of the shortest cooling off periods in the country,” Phillips said. “It needs to be extended, and this is a reminder of that.”