The authors of a recent study warned that these revolving door lobbyists could give employers “insider information about government operations that gives them an unfair advantage.”
WASHINGTON — Over half of retiring Congressmen become lobbyists in Washington, D.C., after their terms come to an end.
Jeffrey Lazarus, Amy McKay and Lindsey Herbel made this startling claim in a study published on Jan. 14 in the journal Interest Groups & Advocacy. The study, which examined all departing members of Congress from 1976 to 2012, found that just over half registered as lobbyists in 2012, compared to about 5 percent in 1976. The most recent figures are down from the peak hit in 1999, when about 75 percent of Congress’ retiring members found new careers in lobbying.
Regarding the entire 36-year period, the authors wrote that, “25 per cent of the 1275 House members and 29 per cent of the 254 senators in our data set go on to register as lobbyists.”
This consistent turnover from political leader to lobbyist to political leaders raises serious concerns. They noted:
“As lobbyists, former policymakers and their employees attempt to influence current policymakers – those who were, until recently, the newly minted lobbyists’ colleagues. This trend is disconcerting to many political observers because people who leave government to become lobbyists may provide their new employer unusually good access to their former colleagues or they may carry to the private sector insider information about government operations that gives them an unfair advantage in their lobbying efforts.”
OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics that tracks lobbying and lobbyists, has documented the post-congressional careers of 427 former members, noting dozens who have gone on to become lobbyists. Some of the most famous include former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the former Republican senator who went on to become a powerful lobbyist and special counsel for firms like Patton Boggs, and former Democratic Minority Leader in the House, Tom Daschle, who is now employed by health industry lobbyists Baker, Donelson et al.
According to OpenSecrets, the 113th Congress, which ended on Jan. 5, 2015, saw less turnover in members of Congress during the midterm elections, but “K Street firms have wasted no time signing up many of the newly available rainmakers.”
Based on their figures, of the 75 departing members of Congress, 42 have found new employment, including nearly 48 percent who are now working for lobbying firms. And nearly 17 percent are employed by corporations that hire lobbyists, such as former Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who serves as president and CEO of Better Medicare Alliance, which helps insurance corporations like Aetna and Humana earn more for their shareholders on retiree health care.
Lazarus, McKay and Herbel questioned the ethics of these tight-knit relationships between Congress and industry. “Is it fair that some lobbyists have an ongoing relationship with a member of Congress that they can leverage to learn the member’s true feelings about the issue of the day?” they asked.
They also warned that even more “revolving door” lobbyists go uncounted in these figures:
“For their part, former members of Congress know just where to go to run into current members, and if they can avoid registering as a lobbyist, they can frequent the members-only gym and even the chamber floor.”