There’s probably no hope of stopping the revolving door in Washington, D.C. anytime soon. The constant cycle of longtime Congress members and senators moving downtown from the Capitol to take high-paying jobs as lobbyists can only be ended by Congress itself – and the prospect of big paychecks to come makes it very unlikely many so-called “citizen politicians” will ever vote to end that.
But Sacramento is different. On the surface, it’s much the same, of course. Legislators move easily and often from the Assembly or state Senate to lobbying jobs just as lucrative as any to be had in the nation’s capital. The difference is that the people of California can effectively end this practice anytime they like, via the initiative process.
The latest example of a state lawmaker taking a far more lucrative job on the side of big business came just this winter, when five-year Democratic Assemblyman Henry T. Perea departed office with a year to go in his third term, taking a job advocating for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, usually referred to as PhRMA. It is the main lobbying group for the drug companies often called Big Pharma.
Perea, the son of former longtime legislator and current Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea, will be advocating for Big Pharma in both California and Nevada, with the Nevada capital of Carson City not very far from his new Sacramento office.
He’s the third California legislator in the last 30 months to leave for a higher paycheck as a lobbyist – even though state law says he can’t actually schmooze or gift his former colleagues until the end of this year. That’s right: Legislators only have to wait 12 months before coming back to advocate directly among their old colleagues.
Before Perea waltzed down the path toward a much bigger paycheck, former Democratic state Sen. Michael Rubio of Shafter moved to a job with Chevron and former Republican state Sen. Bill Emmerson of Riverside County moved to the California Hospital Assn. And that’s just within the last 26 months.
Perea made just over $97,000 a year in the Legislature; his new employer isn’t announcing his salary, but bet on it being at least double what he drew in office. Perea, father of two young children with a third on the way, probably can use the extra cash. Big Pharma had invested in him earlier, too, donating nearly $50,000 to his campaigns in the 2013-14 election cycle.
This is enough to make some wonder whether the new job might be a reward for past favors, perhaps even a reward that was promised even before those favors were done.
The very short one-year lobbying prohibition makes it attractive for big industries to hire lawmakers who once voted on bills vital to their interests. Twelve months often isn’t long in the life of a bill, and after that time is up, former lawmakers like Perea can be right back in the Capitol advocating among their buddies. Not that he won’t be seeing them elsewhere before then.
Perea, whose unofficial bio says he was “known for his skill at working the floor in the Legislature,” will be doing that again very soon. He also won’t have to worry any more about which fellow legislators he pleases or angers with his votes. Everyone will know where he stands – right where his employer tells him to.
Even before he can officially lobby anyone in the Capitol, Perea this fall will probably be instrumental in the campaign against a prospective ballot measure that aims to limit drug prices paid by Medi-Cal and other state programs to levels negotiated by the federal Veterans Administration.
It’s a joke for legislators to be able to come back and lobby their pals so soon after leaving office. There ought to be at least a five-year waiting period for them, which might cause second thoughts for some who enter politics just to get on the gravy train.
This will not happen in Washington, D.C. in the foreseeable future. But it could happen in Sacramento if citizens get sufficiently fed up with legislators like Perea parlaying elected jobs into high-paying posts as influence peddlers.