A Lobbyist, a Consultant, and a Politician Walk Into a Bar…
If there’s a joke here, it’s on us. These days it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between politicians and lobbyists, probably because they’re often one and the same.
In The Town, an unsparing look at the culture and cronyism of Washington, DC, Mike Leibovich writes that “50% of senators and 42% of congressmen” go on to become lobbyists after leaving office, compared to just 3% in 1974.
That roaring sound you hear is the revolving door between congressional offices and corporate penthouses spinning faster and faster.
Money and Politics, Best Friends Forever
Big money is a big problem in American politics, and 84% of Americans agree. One thing we learned during the recent presidential campaign is that people are sick and tired of feeling like their voices aren’t being heard.
Some politicians feel that way too, no doubt. But others? Not so much. And this is why: Wrapping your arms around that money and selling out to the highest bidder is, well, amazing. Selling out gets you PAID. Former members of Congress who become lobbyists see their salaries go up an average of 1,452%.
No, this is not fake news. This is real life.
At the End of the Rainbow
There may be no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but there’s often a big paycheck at the end of a House or Senate career.
Lobbying firms and other such corporate institutions love hiring well-connected men and women who, as former members of Congress, still get access to amenities like the Capitol’s exclusive gym. What better way to chat up your former colleagues about your new firm’s priorities than while sweating through a workout (without other staff, journalists or TV crews nearby)?
One Thing that Brings Democrats and Republicans Together
This is truly a bipartisan issue. To highlight just a few examples:
- Representative Bill Tauzin (R-LA) retired from Congress in 2005, just having spearheaded the passage of President George W. Bush’s prescription drug expansion. Then guess what happened! He was hired to take charge of a giant lobbying association that represents the drug industry. Weird! Tauzin collected $19,359,927 between 2006 and 2010, an increase of 7110% over his congressional salary.
- Another former representative, Glenn English (D-OK), became the head of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association when he retired from Congress in 1994 (after having preserved funding for entities like the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association). He and his coal-friendly association helped weaken climate-change legislation proposed in 2009. Between 2004 and 2010, English was paid $9,294,207, an increase of 1504% over his congressional salary.
- Of course, because it’s a revolving door, you can enter it from either direction. William Lynn was brought on board by the Obama administration in 2008 to be the number-two man in the Pentagon, even though he’d spent much of the last ten years working as a lobbyist for Raytheon. Raytheon is a little company that makes about $25 billion a year, thanks in large part to its lucrative contracts with—wait for it—the Pentagon!
Money Money Money (Also: More Money)
So it’s no surprise, or it should be no surprise that the corporate and political worlds are locked in tight embrace. Fat-cat donors and the politicians who do their bidding obviously benefit, but most of the rest of us don’t. Which is why some in DC have proposed and even managed to pass various fixes over the years but, so far, nothing seems to have had a significant positive impact. The money keeps coming, the door keeps spinning.
When you think about it, what’s the incentive to change? Members of Congress are rich: more than half of them are millionaires. They have a different relationship to money than most of us do. They see their colleagues getting a massive end-of-career payday—why would they want to make the proverbial pot of gold disappear?
Democracy works best when it works for everyone. Stand with us today and get big money out of politics. The lobbyists and the corporate donors may have the cash, but we the people have the numbers. Let’s raise our voices and be heard.