Philip Blumel: why do lobbyists HATE term limits? Hi, I’m Philip Blumel. Welcome to No Uncertain Terms, the official podcast of the term limits movement for the week of December 9, 2019.
Stacey Selleck: Your sanctuary from partisan politics.
Philip Blumel: As we reported in last week’s episode, a group of legislators turned lobbyists have filed suit against Michigan’s voter initiated and approved term limits law. Why? Politicians often like to claim that term limits actually benefit lobbyists. Now we’d normally turn to US term limits Executive Director, Nick, Tomboulides to answer a question like this, but he’s on the road this week. He’s attending a summit of state legislators in Scottsdale, Arizona. So let me try to tackle this solo. Why do lobbyists hate term limits?
Philip Blumel: First, let’s establish that lobbyists actually do hate term limits. I mean, after all, the most common excuse that we hear from politicians for opposing term limits is not because they want to keep their jobs, but it’s because term limits supposedly empower lobbyists. Their argument is that inexperienced legislators are elected to office and due to their lack of knowledge, they naturally turn to lobbyists who take the legislator under their wing and steer them to do the will of the lobbyists’ clients. Hey, and let’s face it, if you’re not actually acquainted with the way that legislatures work, that argument does sound plausible. Yeah, I can see that.
Philip Blumel: But before I refute that, let me posit another plausible sounding argument. Okay. How about this? Lobbyists derive their power from establishing relationships with legislators over time, term limits sever those relationships constantly and therefore greatly reduce lobbyist power. Hmm. Well that makes sense too, doesn’t it? So which is it? Do term limits increase or decrease the power of lobbyists? It can’t be both. Lobbyists being experts on lobbying, of course, they know the answer to this question and they hate term limits. Now, this is no empty assertion. All the plaintiffs in the current lawsuit to overturn Michigan’s voter approved term limits law are lobbyists.
Philip Blumel: They’re not suing to overturn term limits because they love term limits. And this isn’t just an anecdote, US term limits has been around since 1991, and we’ve participated in numerous battles both at the ballot box and in courtrooms. Lobbying firms and special interests with business before the legislature have always provided the money to try to defeat, weaken or abolish term limits. There are no exceptions. So can we agree that lobbyists as a group are not motivated primarily by altruism and they don’t fight term limits at every opportunity in order to reduce their own influence on the political system? I can’t hear you, but I’m going to assume that you said yes. Their opposition is evidence of which of those assertions I made at the beginning of the podcast is valid. The second one. So with that, let’s really dive in and list the top 10 reasons why lobbyist hate term limits.
Philip Blumel: Number one. Well, I already stated the primary reason. Lobbyists derive their power from establishing relationships with legislators over time. Term limits sever these relationships constantly and greatly reduced lobbyist power.
Philip Blumel: Number two, new legislators are more independent of lobbyists. They’re not infants. I mean they have experience in whatever profession they were involved in or are involved in. And in a lot of those cases, it’s political experience at a lower level. And that’s definitely true in Congress. They usually enter office with specific ideas or at least attitudes of their own that the lobbyists have to contend with. Sure, new legislators, just like veteran legislators, will go to lobbyists for information. In fact, the provision of information is one of the positive functions of lobbyists. But the key point for us as voters is that new legislators are uniquely independent of the pressure of lobbyists and special interests. They have not yet established those long mutually profitable relationships greased with campaign contributions that make it so hard to say no to lobbyists and special interests. So they’re freer.
Philip Blumel: Number three. In term limit legislatures where endless reelection is not an option, the incentive for new legislators to sell out to lobbyists is greatly reduced. The booty just isn’t big enough. You can’t stay in the legislature for 30 years and retire with a big state pension. So again, lobbyists have less influence because they have less to offer.
Philip Blumel: Closely related to this is number four. Because term limits legislatures offer less to careerists, people running for office are less likely to be careerists, obviously. Therefore they would be less attracted to the tasty self-dealing treats that lobbyists dangle in front of them. You know what really bugs these former legislators turned lobbyists like in Michigan?
Philip Blumel: Number five. Once they get term limited out, there is lots of competition for the lobbying jobs because there’s so many politicians getting the boot all the time. Lobbying firms and special interests of course love to hire ex politicians because of their Rolodexes. The people that know and have relationships in the legislature that still are making decisions. But with term limits, there’s so many politicians and there’s only so many lobby jobs. So far more politicians lose out in the post legislator game of musical chairs.
Philip Blumel: Which leads to number six. Relationships are the stock and trade of these lobbyists. Because of rotation in office their Rolodexes are term limited also, right? The people they knew when they were in power are being termed limited also, so they have a lot shorter shelf life, these lobbyists do.
Philip Blumel: Number seven. At election time, term limits create monster headaches for lobbyists and special interests. They hate competitive elections. In a non term limited legislature, like say Congress, it’s easy. You just continue to fund all the incumbents since you know they have a 94% chance of winning. Therefore, by doing that, you just maintain all these relationships. That’s easy. Then you can focus on the handful of open seats where the incumbent has retired or died or been indicted, whatever. But what if every seat comes open every six or eight years because of term limits? Ouch. You have to spread your money over far more competitive races and you aren’t just maintaining relationships. You’re betting on relative unknowns. We see this in the data. Due to a far larger number of competitive elections, in term limit states, less is spent on individual races.
Philip Blumel: Which brings us to number eight. Because there are more competitive races to cover, these lobbyists actually need to raise more money overall, even as their influence is decreased.
Philip Blumel: Number nine. Term limits diminish the stature of lobbyists. Those who have decades long relationships with senior legislators who run all the major committees, play golf with them every Sunday and have been doing so for decades. These folks are rightly seen as all inspiring pillars of power and influence themselves. Not just the legislators, but even these lobbyist guys. They’re just part of the capital structure. Now in the scramble of a rotating legislature, these glad handers and backslappers have to constantly prove themselves by establishing new relationships because legislators keep changing and offering useful information to keep the doors open to the newly elected legislators who tend to be more independent. So term limits don’t only encourage merit based promotion in the legislature’s amongst politicians, but it also encourages promotion by merit in the lobbying community that hangs onto legislature.
Philip Blumel: Number Ten. Even though this one encompasses a lot of the ideas in numbers one through nine I want to bring up again an ex lobbyist and our favorite convicted felon, Jack Abramoff, who spent six years in prison for his successes as a high powered lobbyist in Washington DC. He wrote that “When I was a lobbyist, I opposed term limits for representatives. I truly believed it was wrong for the voters to be limited in their choices, but that wasn’t the only reason why I opposed them. Like every lobbyist I knew, I didn’t want to have to build relationships with new members constantly. A representative who stayed in office for decades and was a friend was worth his weight in gold. But permitting people to rule for decades is a recipe for disaster. Is there really a difference between a permanent Congress and a president for life? Representatives should be allowed to serve for three terms of two years, senators for two terms of six years.” Oh yeah. For all the reasons above term limits make lobbyists work much harder and yet the yield less influence. Yep, lobbyists hate term limits. All right.
Scott Tillman: Hi, this is Scott Tillman, the National Field Director with US Term Limits. US Term Limits is working hard to get candidates committed on congressional term limits. At both the state and federal level, we continue to gain new signers for our term limits pledges. At present, we have 69 members of the US Congress who have pledged to cosponsor and support the US Term Limits Amendment of three House terms and two Senate terms and no longer limit. Another 120 candidates who are running for Congress but are not also incumbents have already this pledge for the 2020 cycle. In the state legislature, hundreds of candidates have signed the pledge to cosponsor, vote for and defend the resolution applying for an Article Five convention for the sole purpose of enacting term limits on Congress, and we currently have 248 seated or elected legislators who have signed in states where we need to pass our resolutions. If you have access to a candidate, let them know how well term limits candidates are doing and ask them to sign our pledge. Pledges are available at termlimits.com.
Philip Blumel: The second prong of the attack against Michigan’s term limits law is from the politicians themselves. The leadership of both houses of the Michigan legislature are crafting a fake ethics package and tucked in there will be a abolition or significant weakening of the term limits. We’ve talked about why the lobbyist would oppose the term limits law and why they’ve launched the lawsuit, and it takes a lot less explanation to explain why the politicians would be opposed to it, particularly in Michigan. Because remember Michigan has the second highest paid legislature in the country and all in they make about a hundred grand a year and it’s a year round job. It’s just simply not a bad gig and they don’t want to lose it. Enough said. But there’s a third piece to this puzzle which requires some explaining. On the line, we have Scott Tillman who is the US Term Limits National Field Director, and he lives in Michigan. And he’s been part of the Michigan efforts on behalf of term limits and other voter empowerment issues for a long time. Let’s get the rest of the story directly from him.
Philip Blumel: Hey Scott, how are you doing?
Scott Tillman: Good Phil, how are you today?
Philip Blumel: So we’ve been talking about why the lobbyists in Michigan would support dumping term limits. And we’ve discussed why the politicians in Michigan would want to dump term limits. But one thing that’s striking me odd is the participation of what I think is a legitimate grassroots organization called Voters Not Politicians. I could see why there were lobbyists and the politicians would want a group like this, a grassroots group to support what they’re trying to do because it gives them cover. Everyone knows that the politicians and the lobbyists are just acting out of self interest. But why would a group like a VNP be supportive of this effort to oppose term limits? You have some familiarity with this group, right?
Scott Tillman: Yeah, I got involved with this group. I have done a lot more than just what I do at US Term Limits. I’ve been very involved with direct democracy issues and election issues in Michigan in many states around the country advising, testifying, going and working with citizens groups to improve their direct democracy process in their state and other things. And one thing I’ve noticed is we have a big problem with gerrymandering in many states.
Scott Tillman: Gerrymandering is a problem where parties abused the process of picking districts to really give heavyweight to one side or the other. And an advantage to really stack districts and put people in a bad spot. And there’s different proposed solutions to this. Well in 2017 a group called Voters Not Politicians got started in Michigan and they were going to do something about gerrymandering, and they went around and did a lot of town halls and got people very involved, and came up with this great idea for an independent citizens redistricting commission. We got on the ballot, I canvased my neighborhood, canvased some people close to me and it has passed. It is a great thing to take control of the redistricting process back from the politicians.
Philip Blumel: Excellent. So here’s a group, grassroots, genuine. You would think a group like this would be supporting the term limits law, not opposing it. So is this something that the grassroots at this organization have embraced or is this something that’s more coming from the newly empowered leadership of this organization?
Scott Tillman: Well it appears to be coming from the newly empowered leadership. They went around and did some town halls. I went to some of the town halls. People were talking about doing ethics reform, talking about disempowering lobbyists, taking control of our government back. And I noticed that the ones that I went to, there were a couple of former legislators who would show up and try to assault in some stuff against term limits. But the people, they didn’t want any change to term limits. So this group was considered kind of more of a left-leaning group, but they’ve been reaching out to and meeting with Senate and House leadership, which are Republicans in the state of Michigan to test the waters, to see what’s doable in ethics reform. And apparently the Chamber, the biggest lobby group in Michigan and the most powerful lobby group that’s railed against term limits for years has been involved in the talks too.
Scott Tillman: And they’ve somehow convinced the leadership of this group that it’d be better to work with the politicians. Rather than Voters Not Politicians, it’s going to be politicians, not voters and we’re going to do this other stuff, maybe do it in a statute. But what you guys got to do for us is give us cover to undercut term limits and we know that the voters don’t want to change term limits. We polled on this recently, but this group really apparently wants to be buddy buddy with legislators. They want to go in there and appear that they’re reaching across the aisle and being bipartisan. But what they’re talking about doing is just a giveaway to the chamber and to the politicians and leadership. Everybody knows leadership especially hates term limits because no matter what, in Michigan, nobody gets elected to be speaker on their first term. And in the Senate, nobody’s majority leader for both terms.
Scott Tillman: So speakers in Michigan are very disempowered. It’s not like Illinois where you can go be speaker for 38 or 40 years. In Michigan, you’re lucky to get two, maybe it will get to a case where somebody has four in the House, but in the Senate, one term is going to be the most. Well of course they hate that. They want to be able to go and stay in power longer. So now they’re looking for almost like a Patsy group to go out and run cover for them to go and do this.
Philip Blumel: That’s what it sounds like to me. I smell a rat here and it’s a phenomenon that I’ve seen in politics before. And I know you have to. This genuine group goes out, does something which apparently was very good in this case, and their leaders are newly empowered. They feel very important. Now, they feel like they’re part of the establishment or the infrastructure of their state and they want to use that to do more things. But it also sounds like in order to establish that relationship with the power brokers in Lansing, that they’re willing to make a significant compromise. Because I know, we know from polling and we also know from dealing with groups like this, that people support the term limits. And the rank and file member of Voters Not Politicians, they support term limits, probably at a higher rate than the citizenry at large.
Philip Blumel: And then to see the leadership of this organization say, okay, well we’ll help you politicians and you lobbyists get this term limits thing so you can get us other things. We know how to play the game. You know we’re big political types like you now. That just seems like very small people with big heads taking advantage of a genuine organization using it for their own ends.
Scott Tillman: It really does. So we’ve been to a few of their meetings and people are asking, what’s this about? Why are we going after this? What we know from what they’ve said at their meetings is if term limits is not part of the mix, the lobbyists are going to drop out of the deal and the legislators are going to drop out of a deal.
Philip Blumel: Because that’s all that the lobbyists and legislators want. That’s the whole purpose of having this coalition with Voters Not Politicians is because they need that cover. All they care about is getting rid of term limits law. The establishment doesn’t care about all this ethics stuff. In fact, they probably don’t like it. They probably just are willing to put up with a lot of stuff they don’t like in order to get rid of term limits. But the term limits would be a constitutional change so term limits would stick. Oh boy, this is really rotten. This is really, really rotten.
Paul Jacob: Legislators turned lobbyist turned altruist.
Speaker 5: This is Common Sense With Paul Jacob.
Paul Jacob: Legislative bosses, the state’s most powerful special interest and a fake grassroots organization teamed up a month ago to figure out how best to attack Michigan’s popular term limits law. Now comes a lawsuit demanding that a Federal court overturn these 27 year old voter enacted limits. I’m just sitting here watching five former legislators who are now lobbyists sitting in the conference room of another lobbyist in Lansing talking about how the courts should rescue them from the voters. Patrick Anderson, author of the 1992 Term Limits Law [inaudible 00:16:54]. “Self-serving? Not at all. When you take the most experienced people out of government asserted John Bursch, the legislator lobbyist attorney, it shifts the balance of power to career bureaucrats into lobbyists.” So clearly these kind, meek caring lobbyists are altruistically rejecting more power and influence for themselves and instead working selflessly for the greater good. No wonder everyone loves lobbyists.
Paul Jacob: In pursuing the legal approach, Bursch did acknowledge, “We think it would be very difficult to put anything on the ballot that would be successful. Their legal rationale is as implausible as there a putative public spiritedness.” The lawsuit contends that term limits deny legislators the opportunity to gain lawmaking competence while also listing all the wonderful legislation these legislators turned lobbyists ones past when working under term limits. It’s not a legal argument either way, but which is it? “I’m having trouble” offered Rena Baker with Don’t Touch Term Limits, “Remembering a single moment when I wished any of the plaintiffs were still in office.”
Paul Jacob: This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob. For more Common Sense, go to thisiscommonsense.com.
Scott Tillman: We know that politicians and lobbyists hate term limits because it breaks up relationships and this is going to allow them to have longer relationships.
Philip Blumel: Well, this is a relationship I’d like to see broken between VNP and the lobbyists and politicians. Because of their name, Voters Not Politicians, very apt for the gerrymandering effort. But I’ll tell you, if you have a law here, the term limits law that was enacted by the people via Citizens Initiative, all those signatures collected, 400,000 or something, if I recall. Then it passed with like 60% of the vote. It’s opposed by the politicians. So this group is going to have to rename itself Politicians Not Voters if they’re going to go down this road.
Scott Tillman: It’s sad to see after so many people put in effort, put in, I mean we gathered all those signatures with volunteers. We went door to door with volunteers.
Philip Blumel: And I know what that’s like and I know the kind of people are that do that, particularly the volunteers. It’s really sad to see this happening. So what are we going to do about it, Scott? I know that there’s term limits activists on the ground there. There’s been organizations throughout the years fighting for term limits. Of course there’s US Term Limits. What steps are we taking to empower the citizens?
Scott Tillman: So we have a group in Michigan called don’t touch our term limits and we, I’ve been active every time that the chamber or the lodge legislators or the big lobbyist groups have come after term limits. And of course now we’re getting more active to defend them. And right now what we’re doing is we’re taking around this giant pig. It’s an 18 foot hog, 18 foot long and 10 feet high. And when people stop and ask us about these pigs in Lansing want more time at the trough, these hogs want more time at the trough. The legislators want more time, the lobbyist want more time with their legislators at the trough, getting all their money and favors and sweetheart deals from our legislature. So we’re taking this pig around and we’re having great response and we’re going around to people’s districts and calling them out on it.
Scott Tillman: And then we’ve been going around to these sham meetings that Voters Not Politicians is holding where they’re doing this presentation all about gutting term limits. If you want to see pictures of the pig, you can go to termlimits.com/pig. And then we also have an action page at that link where people can go and sign up to help us to message their legislator, to keep their hands off the term limits, don’t touch our term limits and to become more involved in the state of Michigan. We have a Michigan Facebook page. Please find us there and like and share and follow.
Philip Blumel: I know there have been pictures of the pig of going town to town on the Facebook page in Michigan too. So what is that? How would you search for that? Michigan term limits?
Scott Tillman: Yeah. If you put Michigan term limits, we will pop up as one of your top Facebook results and click on there and you’ll see of course the big pig is very hard to miss. When you see the pig, you’ve got the right page.
Philip Blumel: All right, so we’re bringing the pig around to raise awareness. We’re attending the meetings of the Politicians Not Voters group. And I’ve already renamed it that, sorry. And then also we have the action page.
Scott Tillman: We have the action page that you can get to by going to term limits.com/pig. But because I had put so much effort in with Voters Not Politicians. I mean I went door to door and I donated money multiple times, I went and told other groups that I’m involved with about it, to be supportive of it, I handed out literature. I felt really, really disappointed. So I put together a letter and we actually sent out a letter to other people who like me were involved with the Voters Not Politicians.
Scott Tillman: And we sent out a letter to a huge number of people in Michigan who are involved explain what was going on. And I’ve had a lot of response off that. Some people are spouting off that they’re being lied to. Some people are talking now. The group apparently is trying to say that my efforts on the initiatives shouldn’t count for anything. I mean, are they going to discount everybody who only had a few hundred dollars to give and people who only had time to go out and gather a few signatures? I mean, that’s really disappointing. Their leadership is not really representing the membership as far as I can tell.
Philip Blumel: Well, okay, good. I’m glad you are reaching out. This game’s not over. I feel disgusted by this group. I understand where you’re coming from and hopefully you’re right and I’m wrong, but time will tell because this battle is not over.
Philip Blumel: Thanks for joining us for another episode of No Uncertain Terms. We cannot let the Politicians Not Voters coalition succeed in overturning the citizens will in Michigan. If you live in Michigan, please go to the Save Michigan’s Term Limits Action Page at termlimits.com/Michigan and send a message to your legislators right now. Tell them to keep their hands off Michigan’s term limits. Also, please forward this link to other Michiganders you know. You can also find the Michigan action page under the current actions tab at termlimits.com. We have to get ahead of this. Thanks for your help. We’ll be back next week.
Stacey Selleck: The revolution isn’t being televised. Fortunately, you have No Uncertain Terms Podcast.
Speaker 6: USTL.