Salt Lake Tribune: Revolving door? Lee picks top lobbyist to lead his staff

Written by admin on November 12th, 2010

The Salt Lake Tribune weighs in on the revolving door in Utah’s new Senator Mike Lee’s office.

Salt Lake Tribune

Senator-elect Mike Lee has tapped one of Utah’s most prominent lobbyists to lead his Washington staff and coordinate his transition from candidate to senator.

Spencer Stokes doesn’t officially become a Senate staffer until Jan. 5, but he plans to bounce between Utah and Washington in the coming weeks as he tries to hire staff, set up the Senate office and ramp down his lobbying activities.

Lee said they first got to know each other when he was working as former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s legal counsel and Stokes was a constant presence on Capitol Hill.

The two also briefly collaborated for 1-800-Contacts, with Stokes acting as the company’s lobbyist and Lee as its attorney. They have also both worked for EnergySolutions and Stokes is still registered to lobby for the nuclear services company, which operates a radioactive waste landfill in Utah.

Stokes is currently registered to lobby for 18 organizations in the state, including the Utah League of Credit Unions; Management & Training Corp., a private prison company; and a number of energy interests, including utilities and the Utah Association of Energy Users.

On the federal level, Stokes has primarily lobbied for Weber County, Weber State University and a small defense contractor, Engineering and Software Systems Solutions, for which he focused on federal funding and earmarks.

Lee made a campaign promise to forgo any earmarks for his first year in office and has been highly critical of the practice in which lawmakers funnel federal money to pet projects back home.

Craig Holman, of the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Public Citizen, has been a longtime critic of lobbyists joining the government and government officials becoming lobbyists, a practice referred to as the “revolving door.”

This is one of the primary tools for what I consider undue influence peddling on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington,” Holman said. “In essence, it enables special interests that were represented by a former lobbyist to essentially capture governments.”

Despite such criticisms, it’s common for members of Congress to tap someone with lobbying experience to lead their offices.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently named Michael Kennedy as his new chief of staff. Kennedy was a Washington lobbyist before leading Utah State University’s government relations’ efforts. Last year, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, hired a chief of staff who was a registered lobbyist for AT&T.

And on the flip side, outgoing chiefs of staff often become lobbyists. Hatch’s departing chief of staff, Jace Johnson, is leaving to become a lobbyist for Adobe. Matheson’s longtime top aide, Stacey Alexander, joined a small lobbying firm with clients such as Time Warner and Goldman Sachs.

 

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