Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Husband And Wife Leave High Ranking State Jobs in August to Become Lobbyists: Departures Point to Need to Strengthen Revolving Door Law

First, the Associated Press reports on the departure of Davey Neal from the Secretary of State's Office:
Heather Willis Neal and Davey Neal
As part of its pitch to represent Indiana’s microbreweries, a powerful lobbying group proposed hiring an executive director with business smarts, knowledge of alcohol laws and who currently works for the same government he would be trying to persuade.

It’s hardly uncommon to go from being employed by Indiana’s government to lobbying it, but an increasing number are making the jump without sitting out the customary one-year “cooling-off” period.

Davey Neal, chief of staff to Secretary of State Connie Lawson, was granted a waiver Thursday allowing him to become a lobbyist almost immediately, should his perspective employer, The Corydon Group, land its $171,000-a-year contract with the brewers.

Corydon Group officials made their pitch to the Brewers of Indiana Guild in a March 4 business plan obtained by The Associated Press. Neal followed up with the brewers two months later, touting his expertise with other members of the lobbying powerhouse, according to a person who attended the meeting but requested anonymity to discuss the contents of a private meeting.

Stuart Yoak, executive director of the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at Indiana University, said he would be concerned about Neal potentially misusing his government position or improperly relying on his insider knowledge of government to get hired.
The Ethics Commission ruled [August 8th] that Neal’s previous work on the alcohol commission should keep him from lobbying executive branch employees for a year. But the panel didn’t bar him from plying lawmakers immediately and approved his move to the lobbying group. 
Then news broke yesterday that Davey's wife, Heather Willis Neal was leaving her position to join a lobbying firm. The Evansville Courier Press reports:
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's legislative director will join a political strategies company in the midst of an uproar about her former boss, the firm’s owners said Monday.

Heather Willis Neal served as chief of staff to former state Superintendent Tony Bennett during the time he is accused of changing the state’s A-F grading system to benefit a charter school he had been touting. Neal participated in email exchanges that discussed making the controversial changes. 
After Bennett lost his reelection bid last year, Neal moved to the new Pence administration. Now, she’ll serve as president of the public affairs practice at Limestone Strategies, a firm co-founded by Cam Savage, who also worked for Bennett. 
“Heather is a tremendous addition to our company,” Savage said in a statement. 
“Having worked in the highest levels of Indiana government for more than a decade, her credentials are unrivaled as a leader on just about every key issue from economic development to education to elections,” he said. “She is an even more extraordinary person and we couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome her to lead our new practice.”
Savage's depiction of Heather Willis Neal is certainly not shared by everyone at the Statehouse.  Many people reported that she was difficult to work on a personal level and often cited as one of the Department of Education staffers who steered the Superintendent Tony Bennett away from supporting conservative education reforms.  She played a major role in advocating for an A-F grading system that downplayed growth in favor of performance, a system which hurt the ranking of charter schools, caused a riff with Republican legislators, and ultimately led to the media brouhaha that felled Bennett from his job as Florida Education Commissioner.  Heather Willis Neal was also an unabashed advocate of Common Core, national education standards which did not play well with conservative (and some liberal) audiences.

No word yet if Heather Willis Neal will pursue a waiver from the Inspector General's Office to lobby the legislative branch.  It does not appear that under Indiana law she would have to as long as she doesn't seek to lobby the executive branch.  The irony though is that in her executive branch jobs in both the Department of Education and under Governor Mike Pence she lobbied the legislative branch, the very thing she will be doing with Limestone Strategies.


Nicolas Martin said...

The problem is not the jobs of people out of government, it is that the state is involved where it should not be. Rather than restricting freedom of employment, remove government from the private economy.

Pete Boggs said...

Amen Mr. Martin.