Saturday, February 25, 2012

Do You Ever Wonder Why Washington Is So Unspeakably Corrupt?


How much of a right-wing crackpot is Florida incumbent Bill Posey? Well... his ProgressivePunch score is slightly less progressive than Paul Broun's, Congress' most prominent John Birch Society member. And yet... even a right-wing kook like Posey can come up with a great-- and crucial-- idea. Yesterday Zaid Jilani reported that Posey introduced legislation to ban Members of Congress from lobbying for five years after they leave. Great idea!

A couple weeks ago I met with a 16-year DC congressional staffer who rose to the position of chief of staff for one of the highest ranking Democrats on Capitol Hill. She told me two things that sent me reeling: 1- Congress (meaning not just Members but the whole infrastructure of staffers) is now more corrupt than it's ever been; and 2- the Democrats aren't one iota less corrupt than the Republicans. As Jack Abramoff demonstrated-- and has been strutting around and crowing about since getting out of prison-- the staffers are all for sale. (I know a few who aren't but they're a rare breed.) Zaid's take on the corruption, though, focuses on the Members themselves, the ones we elect-- and the ones who would be threatened by Posey's legislation.
One of the ways that Big Money works to take control of the country’s political system is by enlisting former legislators to become lobbyists. These lobbyists, having passed through the “revolving door,” have wide access to their former colleagues in addition to the financial resources that lobbying firms command.

While there are some laws regulating how and when former Members of Congress can become lobbyists, some legislators-- most famously, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD)-- have skirted these laws by engaging in influence peddling without officially registered as lobbyists. Former Members of Congress regularly exploit this Daschle Loophole.

Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), who was elected to Congress in 2009, was troubled by his colleagues leaving office and then working on behalf of special interests. In an interview with Republic Report, his press secretary George Cecala explained that the congressman read Peter Schweitzer’s book Throw Them All Out, which documents congressional insider trading and other similar shocking behavior by Members of Congress. He then asked all of his staff to read the book as well.

Last week, Posey introduced  the “Stop the Revolving Door in Washington Act,” a new version of a bill he first introduced in 2009. The bill would ban all lobbying by former Members of Congress for five years and all lobbying by former congressional employees for two years. Perhaps most interestingly, Cecala explained to Republic Report that the bill would actually ban any contact between these former government employees and current employees of Congress that is intended to influence them on behalf of any person. This would effectively close the Daschle Loophole because it would not only ban these individuals from federally registered lobbying but even informal lobbying as well.

Posey’s bill is a bold step towards reducing the stranglehold of special interests on Congress. The congressman wanted to ensure that Members of Congress’s careers “will be about service, rather than service to influence peddling,” Cecala told us. The ultimate goal, said Cecala, is to “return us to a citizens’ legislature.”

There's absolutely no chance that the current Congress will pass this bill and it's hard to imagine that a corrupt shill like Eric Cantor would ever allow it to even be brought up. Just before Zaid went published his piece, Republic Report ran a related post by Suzanne Merkelson about the Beltway revolving door that has so corrupted our political system. "What happens," she asks, "when you leave your job on the Hill?"
You’re welcomed with open arms on K Street. At least, that was the case for nearly 400 former House staffers who left Congress to register as lobbyists from 2009 to 2011, according to a new Sunlight Foundation study. Sunlight’s Leo Drutman writes:

More than two in five former House staffers who registered as lobbyists went to one of Washington’s many lobbying firms. One in five went to lobby for a for-profit corporation, and another one in five went to lobby for a business or trade association. In other words, corporate America is capturing the lion’s share of former Hill staffers’ expertise. A large number also represent state and local governments and universities in their work for lobbying firms.

This graph illustrates the overwhelming pull K Street has on staffers departing the Hill:

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