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Lewis jabs Zinke with plan for waiting period before political groups can support ex-leaders

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HELENA, Montana — Democrat John Lewis is heating up Montana's U.S. House race by proposing a "cooling off" period for political groups before they spend money to support the campaigns of their former leaders.

Lewis proposed extending the rules that require a waiting period before members of Congress can become lobbyists to independent-expenditure only committees, also known as super PACs. That period is now a year, and Lewis said he would like to see it extended to two years to eliminate a "revolving door" between Congress, lobbyists and super PACs.

"This is about making sure that ... we all play by the same rules," Lewis said. "There should be a cooling off period before you become a candidate yourself, so that you can't turn around and have that super PAC benefit you."

The proposal is a jab at Lewis' Republican opponent, former state Sen. Ryan Zinke of Whitefish. Zinke resigned as chairman of the super PAC he founded in 2010 just weeks before announcing his candidacy last year.

PHOTO: John Lewis, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, discusses his proposal to reform Congress on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Helena, Montana. Lewis' proposal includes a waiting period before super PACS can spend money in support of their former leaders. (AP Photo/Matt Volz)
John Lewis, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, discusses his proposal to reform Congress on Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Helena, Montana. Lewis' proposal includes a waiting period before super PACS can spend money in support of their former leaders. (AP Photo/Matt Volz)

Since then, Special Operations for America has since spent more than $252,500 in support of Zinke and against one of his Republican primary opponents. At least two complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission alleging illegal coordination, which Zinke has adamantly denied.

Zinke was traveling on Tuesday and unavailable for comment. His spokeswoman, Shelby DeMars, called any proposal by Lewis to reform Washington politics hypocritical because Lewis took advantage of that political system for years as a longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.

"There is no relationship between SOFA PAC and Zinke. We can't coordinate right now" DeMars said. "This is an attempt to spin rhetoric and make it seem like (Lewis) is not part of the Washington crew. When it comes right down to it, he is."

Lewis, Zinke and Libertarian Mike Fellows are campaigning for the House seat U.S. Rep. Steve Daines is leaving to run for Senate.

Lewis' proposal is part of a bigger plan to reform Congress he announced Tuesday. The other components include pay cuts and ending pensions for representatives, extending open-records laws, requiring disclosure of travel paid by private groups and withholding pay until Congress passes a budget.

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