A former Republican state legislator has registered as a lobbyist just one month after leaving office, sparking fresh calls to update Minnesota’s conflict-of-interest laws.
Former Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, resigned from his seat in December, citing a desire to spend time with his family and pursue private sector work following a recent surgery for a lifelong heart condition. On Friday, he filed paperwork to represent two clients — the Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and the South Dakota-based Sanford Health — as a paid lobbyist for Jacobson Law Group.
Experts on ethics in government say the quick transition from public official to paid lobbyist can raise questions about access and give moneyed interests a leg up in influencing legislation.
“The problem is when you have special interests being able to navigate environments and spaces and being able to leverage relationships that everyday Minnesotans don’t have,” said Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota. “This is supposed to be a process for the people. This is not supposed to be a process for special interests.”
Most states have adopted “revolving door” statutes that set a mandatory waiting or “cooling off” period for former lawmakers who move on to lobbying work. Similar rules exist for congressional members and staff, as well as for former presidential administration officials. Minnesota has no such law, though internal House rules ban paid lobbying for one year after leaving office. It’s unclear what if anything the House could do to enforce such rules for former members.
Belladonna-Carrera said it’s time for Minnesota to pass tougher restrictions.
“This has become so blatant that it’s literally begging for someone to stand up,” she said.
Zerwas said in the brief interview Monday that he doesn’t have any concerns about the new role, which he expects to focus on influencing GOP lawmakers in the Senate.
“I’m proud to represent the clients that I have within Jacobson Law Group and hope to work really hard to represent them here at the Capitol,” he said.