Daddy, when I grow up I want to go to Congress and then leverage my position there into a lucrative lobbying career

One could argue that corruption is inevitable in any institution. There are always incentives for people to utilize bribery, extortion, or influence in order to attain their objectives. When the institution in question governs a nation with some of the wealthiest corporations, unions, and lobbying factions in the world there will obviously be stronger incentives for certain American groups to work tirelessly to influence policies, garner subsidies, and create loopholes in their favor. While some degree of corruption is to be expected in any establishment one would hope that those trusted by the institution to represent their constituent’s interests would not sell out on their values following retirement. Unfortunately this is exactly what many do.

In Jack Abramoff’s book, Capitol Punishment he details dozens of methods utilized by his firm and other lobbying firms in Washington in order to influence lawmakers. From spending over a million dollars on sports tickets, which he and his co-workers lavishly presented to congressmen and senators, to campaign donations, there were many well-disguised bribes Abramoff cites as tools towards successfully influencing Washington. What Abramoff described as the most effective tool, however, might strike many as surprising. The most successful tactic Abramoff describes is guaranteeing a politician or his chief of staff a job following their departure from Congress.

This guarantee is not an uncommon ploy employed solely by Abramoff and his lobbying firm. The numbers speak for themselves. According to an article by Rob Dreher, An Infestation of Lobbyists, in 1974 a nominal 3% of retired politicians went into lobbying compared with 42% of congressmen and 50% of senators right now. Considering the compensation that these ex-politicians are receiving it is not surprising that they are selling out. According to Lee Fang, when a ex-member of Congress retires and goes into lobbying they can expect on average to receive a 1,452% wage increase. And lobbying firms are more than willing to pay out such extraordinary salaries in exchange for putting to work individuals with unparalleled influence on the hill. While lobbyists are required by law to report with Congress and detail their dealings quarterly, ex-politicians are able to avoid this step via a loophole. Through claiming that none of the dealings they have with current politicians are on behalf of their clients, these retired congressmen and senators are able to lobby in secret, so to speak.

Tom Daschle, who was the Senate Minority leader only a decade ago, has made millions of dollars since leaving office working as a lobbyist. Through his contacts, valuable insights, and ability to influence current policymakers Daschle is a tremendous asset to lobbying firms. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was also able to cash in on his past political position, earning millions of dollars once out of office.
For the time being, it seems unlikely that campaign financing will be reformed to the point where lobbyists will no longer be able to influence laws via campaign donations. It is, after all, rather cumbersome to determine whether or not a campaign donation was used to influence policy.

A very reasonable and necessary reform would be a law prohibiting any ex-member of congress from accepting a salary or position at a lobbying firm for ten years following their departure. Until such a reform is in place our nation will continue to see its laws influenced by more powerful lobbying firms with an army of ex-politicians by their side.

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2 Responses to Daddy, when I grow up I want to go to Congress and then leverage my position there into a lucrative lobbying career

  1. odelossantos says:

    Well-written piece. I do have two question, however. You mention that Members of Congress are influenced by not just their former colleagues-turned-lobbyists, but often by former Chiefs of Staff as well; would you put forth placing this ban on congressional staffers too? And do you see any negative unintended consequences this ban might have?

    • Excellent questions. I probably would endorse a ban on Chiefs of Staff as well. It might diminish incentives for people with such a job diminishing the pool of talent, but I can’t be certain of that given how much prestige, influence, and power accompanies such jobs even without a lobbying job to look forward to after. There could be other unintended consequences, but I would argue that the current negative externalities associated with lobbyists having a plethora of retired politicians at their side far outweigh those consequences.

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