We’ve already covered the revolving door of lawmakers resigning from the General Assembly only to return to Raleigh a few months later. Former House Majority Leader Mike Hager started his own lobbying firm, Hager Strategic Solutions, shortly after his ‘cooling off period.’ Former house rules chairman, Tom Apodaca registered as a lobbyist in 2017 and started his firm, Vista Strategies. He has already amassed clients including Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Network. Thom Goolsby also has his own firm, with clients including the NC Small Business Association and the Education Freedom Alliance.
In order to get a sense of exactly how much money lobbyists were funneling into North Carolina, we looked at reports issued by the Secretary of State from 2007-2016. In 2016, $45,307,721.63 was spent on lobbyists in North Carolina. This number is striking because, despite the fact that 2016 was an election year and therefore a “short” session, it is only a few hundred dollars fewer than 2013 spending and well exceeds 2014 levels. In 2015, more than $49 million was spent on lobbying the North Carolina General Assembly, compared to the just over $20 million spent just five years earlier. The overall trend is clear. Moneyed interests are spending more and more on lobbying the North Carolina legislature.
The revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists is nothing new, but what’s with the rash of Republicans claiming to resign to spend time with their families, only to end up back in Raleigh a few months later?
Former Majority Leader Mike Hager resigned in August, announcing “after much prayer and consideration, it is time to spend more time with my family and pursue other opportunities.” So much for returning home to his family in Rutherford County. Weeks after the required six-month cooling off period, Hager cashed in, registering with the state and starting a lobbying firm focused on deregulation and public utility issues.
In 2014, Senator Thom Goolsby of New Hanover County chose not to seek a third term. At the time he said, “I’m just ready to come home. It’s been a long four years.” However, Goolsby could not wait to get back to Raleigh, and according to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website, registered as a lobbyist in March of 2015. Some of Goolsby’s clients have included the Education Freedom Alliance, NC Small Business Coalition, NC Clean Energy Business Alliance, and the NC Friends of Midwives.
Republicans who came into power saying they would change the culture in Raleigh, have turned the lobbying revolving door into an art form. By resigning early a lawmaker can start the clock on the six-month cooling off period sooner rather than later. Cashing in has proven to be the culture at the General Assembly under Republican leadership.
At least former Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca was honest. When he resigned in mid-2016 he admitted he was considering becoming a lobbyist. "I've got a lot of options, and government relations is one of those options,” he told WRAL. Apodaca registered as a lobbyist in January of 2017 and started a new firm. His new clients included Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Altria, and the NC Wine and Beer Wholesalers Association.