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Editorial: If Wilson followed rules, then rules need changing

Former New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson, who left office on Jan. 3, 2009, says she followed House ethics disclosure rules in connection with her end-of-term dealings with Sandia National Laboratories.

No one has disputed her interpretation, making one thing clear: Congress should change the rules.

As the end of her term in the U.S. House of Representatives drew near, on Dec. 8, 2008, Wilson set up her own private company, Heather Wilson and Co. LLC. On Dec. 19, 2008, Sandia National Laboratories issued a proposed contract to pay Wilson’s company $10,000 a month for consulting services.

On Jan. 4, 2009, the day after her term ended, Wilson began work as president of Wilson and Co. – under contract with Sandia. She issued her first invoice to Sandia on Feb. 5, 2009 – retroactive to Jan. 4.

Under House rules, outgoing members can set up post-congressional employment while still serving so long as negotiations don’t start until after their successors are elected. A disclosure form requires notice of “any agreement or arrangement with respect to future employment.” Wilson’s form said her future employment was with her own new company. It did not mention the Sandia contract.

Wilson says congressional rules required her to list her company – because it employed and paid her – but did not require her to list her company’s clients.

Wilson says, “I read (the rules), sought advice on them and fully complied with them, including disclosure with the House Ethics Committee.”

If the rule is intended to clearly show whom exiting lawmakers will be getting money from, it fails. If the intent is to prevent lawmakers from immediately profiting from people or companies that stood to gain from their votes while in office, it is inadequate.

Congress, in the interest of preventing perceptions of improprieties, should amend its rules so it’s clear what lucrative deals are on the table as its members get ready for life outside of office.

Then again, “pretend” disclosure on feathering one’s nest might just be one of those rare examples of bipartisan harmony.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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