1,452% Pay Raise: Why Congressmen Become Lobbyists

[Editor’s Note: Back in March 2012, when this lamentation of public servant disservice first appeared, a writer needed less than 500 words to illustrate that a stint in Congress is too often the first step toward a long, illustrious career in larceny on the grand scale.]

When a politician loses reelection, the real dirty work begins.

A March 19 report from Republic Report, specialists in “investigating how money corrupts democracy,” finds that when a Congressman departs the House of Representatives, the agony of losing his seat can be softened by, on average, a 1,452 percent pay raise. The catch? To suck in that balloon payment, the ex-rep or Senator must sign on as a corporate lobbyist.

Washington lobbying is a recurrent hot-button topic with the American public. Intermittently, some appalling story of lobby abuse pop ups, revealing the obscene influence brokered by beltway influence peddlers. Outrage is provoked. Again, calls for lobby reform ascend and echo off the hallowed walls of Congress. The issue is addressed and fixed once and for all.

This is all true, other than the fantasy about the issue being fixed.

Republic Report points out that members of Congress are legally permitted to negotiate a job with a lobbying firm while still an active member of Congress. There is no obligation for a lawmaker to disclose a signed-and-sealed offer for post-public-service career advancement. In fact, any Senator or Representative is free to pursue legislation that favors his future lobbyist cohorts, without revealing his financial allegiance to those new partners.

The process smells vaguely unethical, if not outright corrupt and theoretically criminal. Surely, no honorable representative would take advantage of this gaping loophole in Congress’s self-policing honor system.

The continuing takeaway from this story: It’s unfair to expect the vested interests in Washington to look out for your needs at home.

As noted by Republic Report, exceptions to the ethical politician do exist:

•Former Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) spent his last year in office fighting reforms that sought greater transparency in the derivatives marketplace. Almost as soon as he left office, Gregg joined the board of a derivatives trading company and became an “advisor” to Goldman Sachs. Risky derivative trading exacerbated the financial crisis of 2008.

•Former Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) made $19,359,927 as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies between 2006 and 2010. Tauzin retired from Congress in 2005, shortly after leading the passage of President Bush’s prescription drug expansion. His salary went up 7,110 percent.

•Former Congressman Richard Baker (R-LA) made $3,219,255 between 2008 and 2009 as head of a hedge fund lobbying association. In Congress, as a member of the influential House Financial Services Committee, Baker oversaw efforts to relax regulations governing Wall Street.

In 2011, Talking Points Memo counted 195 former members of Congress working as lobbyists. Referred to as a “Shadow Congress,” that contingent of highly connected influence peddlers will make its desires known the next time lobby reform is pushed around the plate by the nation’s highest grade of elected servants.

The continuing takeaway from this story: It’s unfair to expect the vested interests in Washington to look out for your needs at home.

Allan MacDonell Administrator
Director of Skeeve Allan MacDonell is the author of ‘Prisoner of X’ and ‘Punk Elegies.’
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