TALLAHASSEE — Barely a week after he lost the Republican primary for governor, Attorney General Bill McCollum sought legal advice on whether he can lobby the governor's office and Cabinet — the very people he works with now — after he leaves office in January.
The answer: No.
He'll have to wait two years before he can collect fees to represent private clients before the state government that has employed him the past four years.
McCollum, whose duties as attorney general include upholding Florida's open government laws, also wanted his request kept secret. He asked the Commission on Ethics not to reveal his name as the person making the inquiry, but the agency did anyway.
McCollum, 66, still has not endorsed Rick Scott, the man who defeated him in the Republican primary. Yet by his request, McCollum is exploring whether he can lobby the next governor.
The attorney general, who was criticized by Scott for being "a career politician and a lobbyist," said through a spokeswoman Thursday that he hasn't decided his next move.
"He is currently weighing his options," said spokeswoman Ryan Wiggins, adding that McCollum sought legal advice "in case he decides to go into lobbying."
McCollum's Sept. 3 letter to the Commission on Ethics noted that state law and the Constitution already bar him from lobbying his current agency, the attorney general's office, for two years after leaving office in January.
The post-employment restriction is intended to discourage a revolving-door political culture in which ex-officeholders immediately cash in on their connections and experience.
But because the attorney general also is a member of the Cabinet, McCollum asked "what entities" are also covered by the lobbying restriction.
The attorney general, as a Cabinet member, serves on a variety of boards overseeing the state pension fund, environmental, land use and other issues.
In its opinion, the ethics commission said: "One's public service career and contacts developed in that capacity should not be used to enrich oneself at the expense of the public (and) the provision was intended to prevent influence peddling and the use of public office to create opportunities for personal profit through lobbying once an official leaves office."
In his letter to the ethics panel, McCollum wrote: "I also request that my name be withheld from any published opinion issued by the Commission." It is online at www.ethics.state.fl.us.
McCollum, a lawyer who served for 20 years in Congress, listed a net worth of $1.3 million in 2009. He collects $82,000 annually as a congressional pension.
For several years after he left Congress, McCollum was a $400,000-a-year lobbyist for the Baker & Hostetler law firm.
At an Aug. 13 campaign stop in Jacksonville Beach, McCollum told a small group of Republican voters: "I will tell you this much. I could be making a lot more on the outside than I ever did on the inside. That's right."
Times/Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.