Disclose the blessings
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2001
In an unguarded moment, former House Speaker John Thrasher, who was a lobbyist before he became a legislator, remarked to a reporter that he felt "blessed" to be free again to represent "anybody who wanted to hire me."
Blessed, indeed. At least 17 clients, including two of the mightiest, Associated Industries and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, have added Thrasher to their Tallahassee lobbyist rosters. Now he's contemplating a contract with DuPont Pharmaceuticals, which is gearing up once again to suppress competition to its popular blood thinner Coumadin.
The DuPont connection has jolted even jaded eyebrows.
Thrasher used the speakership powers last year to block legislation allowing pharmacists to substitute the generic equivalent for Coumadin, which they can't do now without a doctor's order.
Because the bill is thought likely to pass this year, Thrasher's close ties to Gov. Jeb Bush have inspired talk that the purpose in hiring him is to get the bill vetoed or at least make potential supporters think it might be. Thrasher is barred by the Constitution from lobbying legislators until November 2002, but he is free to lobby the governor or anyone else in the executive branch.
Thrasher, who says he hasn't signed a contract yet and doesn't know what his duties will be, said they might be limited to consulting with the company "about strategy and things like that." He insists he isn't capitalizing on his relationship with the governor, whom "I respect too much to ever put him in a position where he'd have to defend my relationship with him."
Thrasher insists he's doing nothing more than other ex-speakers have done. This may be true, but so what? Citizens with fewer such blessings to count might reasonably ask whether he has a few too many, and whether it isn't long past time to close certain loopholes.
Gov. Reubin Askew, who wrote the lobbying restriction into his 1976 "Sunshine Amendment" initiative, recognized that many ex-legislators would be lawyers with legitimate needs to practice before the Supreme Court. He did not anticipate that ex-legislators would sit out the two years on cozy cushions marked "consultant" or justify their keep by specializing temporarily on the governor and Cabinet.
The exemption, it is now clear, should be limited strictly to practice before the court. As this is not a realistic expectation, perhaps the Legislature could at least be shamed into demanding that former members disclose what they are being paid and for precisely what duties when blessed by such prominent special interests as Associated Industries, Blue Cross and DuPont. Unfortunately, that is probably not a realistic expectation either.
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