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, 2013, 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.
Neal "as an attorney and a MBA, is perfectly suited to lead (Brewers of Indiana Guild) BIG's external affairs," the lobby shop wrote in the proposal.
Neal said the brewers guild first approached him about helping and said he followed all proper ethics rules in seeking the new job.
"I am pleased to have received unanimous confirmation that I may move forward with further discussions," Neal said Thursday, in response to emailed questions.
His potential move raises questions about the effectiveness of that law at a time when a rising number of former state officials are being granted waivers from the cooling-off period. In the last year, a handful of top state officials have received approval to leap directly from government work to outside employment, including former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who became Purdue University's president in January.
The ethics commission cleared a trio of Daniels' top aides to leave state jobs overseeing Indiana's transportation, economic development and government facilities departments to take jobs with Daniels at Purdue with no waiting period. A top Pence administration official also was cleared to return to an Indianapolis law firm after six months with the new governor but returned to Pence's office roughly a month later.
In each case, the state's ethics panel pointed out the law does not apply to their situations, largely because they would not be directly working on projects or programs they worked on while in state government. But government ethicists say the cozy relationships still raise other questions of favoritism.
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.
Corydon Group managing partner Chris Gibson wrote in an email response to a phone call that there had been "no formal negotiations" with Neal and that all conversations with him regarding the job were "prospective in nature."
But according to the business plan obtained by the AP, Neal would be hired as a vice president for the firm if it wins the brewers guild contract. He also would serve as executive director for the guild.
The guild expects to take up the proposal when it meets next Wednesday.
The case offers a rare look inside the cozy relationship between Indiana's publicly paid staffers and the lobby shops they often depart for after working for the state.
The brewers group represents Sun King Brewing Co. in Indianapolis, Three Floyds Brewing Co. in northwest Indiana and 17 other brewers. The lobby shop noted in its business plan that Neal previously worked as executive secretary for Indiana's Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, where he "advised the Commission on all manner of legal concerns and provided legal interpretations for the alcohol industry."
The Ethics Commission ruled Thursday 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.
Clay Robinson, owner of Sun King Brewing, told the AP in an email Thursday that he met Neal at a Wabash College alumni event last summer and was impressed with his knowledge of Indiana alcohol laws. He said he approached Neal about helping the guild transition from a loosely structured group to a "bona fide trade organization" and that Neal then approached The Corydon Group.
Robinson said The Corydon Group proposal is one of several the brewers guild is considering. He said he had no concerns about Neal's involvement in the proposal while working for the state.
"I don't see where anything that has transpired would constitute a breach of ethics and it appears that the ethics committee agrees," he said.
Ted Miller, vice president of the guild, noted the craft brewing industry has been growing rapidly in Indiana and, as a result, members have been looking at increasing their influence at the Statehouse.
"The industry is growing at a breakneck pace. So we'd like to make sure the legislation follows that, but they don't work quite that fast down there," Miller said.