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Move From Texas Legislator To Lobbyist Poses Ethical Question

After serving 12 years in the Texas Legislature state Representative Ray Allen resigned citing financial difficulties. ?I simply cannot afford to serve on a $600-a-month salary with no other source of income,? said Allen.

Allen has since overcome his financial woes working as a lobbyist for some of the same companies that solicited his support as a politician. These companies have boosted Allen?s income to somewhere between $230,000 and $484,000 a year.

Equally surprising are the alliances Allen has made in his transition form lawmaker to lobbyist. Jeff Heckler once served as treasurer for the Austin conservation group Save Our Springs (SOS). In 2003 Allen supported House Bill 2130 which would have undermined water quality controls for both the city of Austin and the nearby Sunset Valley community. SOS was instrumental in defeating the bill. The group pressed state lawmakers to oppose the move, by Chevron Corp., to transport gas, through an old pipeline, over the city?s watersheds. As a lawmaker Allen joined a losing effort to oppose SOS. Now Allen and Heckler have teamed up in a variety of causes and Sunset Valley employs both Heckler and Allen as lobbyists in their behalf.

Asked in an interview how he and Allen came to be partners given their opposing environmental views Heckler said, ?We?re not working in any environmental stuff. We?re mostly working on Corrections stuff.?

In 2003 Allen was chairman of the House Corrections Committee. Even then he was active in lobbying out-of-state for private prison interests. National Correctional Industries Association is one of his clients. Allen claims that NCIA focuses on prison labor, not privatization, even though two of its members are major private prison companies.

Scott Gilmore is one of Allen?s lobby partners. He is also Allen?s former legislative chief of staff. The two work together in support of Chevron USA, Bottom Line Utility Solutions, Inc., Vanguard Electronics, LLC and City of Sunset Valley.

When Gilmore left Allen?s staff, in 2004, he founded the SEG Strategic Alliances lobbying firm. Not surprisingly, his leading clients were the same ones represented when he worked for Allen.

Gilmore is also under contract to Heckler?s lobby firm the Solutions Group. Last year the two lobbied for AT&T Inmate Calling Services. Income from prisoner phone calls has been the source of heated controversy in the past with a major portion of the money from the collect calls going into the pockets of the state. That bill became law this year.

Gilmore and Heckler also partner the promotion of Alantic Shores Healthcare a mental health company owned by the GEO Group Inc. GEO is the second largest private prison operator in the world and used to operate under the name Wackenhut Corrections.

Gilmore also represents the Keefe Group, the largest supplier of prison commissaries in the U.S. He also recently contracted with CentraCore Properties a prison-for-profit investor.

Gilmore?s reunion with Allen has some people questioning the integrity of influence peddling by former politicians. But the thin line between public service and self-serving interests is not a new subject for Allen.

In 1995, Allen came under scrutiny from the Houston Chronicle after he successfully chaired legislation that allowed Texas citizens to carry concealed handguns providing they had received proper training. Then, he opened the Academy for Firearms Training in Grand Prarie, Texas.

In 2005 Allen garnered the support of the six members of the Corrections Committee to promote a bill that would allow Bottom Line Utility Solutions to install water conservation devices in Texas prisons. The lobbyists hired by Bottom Line were none other than Heckler and Gilmore.

The Bottom Line bill was approved too late in the session to move to the Senate. Put they are back again in 2007 with a third lobbyist -- you guessed it -- Ray Allen. Allen, Gilmore and Heckler have split profits upward of $1 million since

Allen left the Texas legislature. Some have suggested the revolving door between legislating and lobbying be closed.

But that would require a law to be passed by the same legislators that hope to someday be lobbyists themselves.

?We support a two-year cooling-off period before lawmakers can enter the lobby,? says Tom ?Smitty? Smith of Texas Public Citizen. ?Lawmakers who grease a corporation?s bottom line today should not have their own bottoms greased by that same corporation tomorrow.?

Source: Texas Observer

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