States Set an Example of How to Slow the Federal Revolving Door

from The Hill — 08/27/19 06:00 PM EDT 

by Craig Holman

When members of Congress and other elected officials leave federal office, they usually move into highly lucrative jobs, either joining a lobbying firm or working as “strategic consultants” on behalf of business lobbying campaigns. The inside connections into the halls of power by newly retired public officials make them invaluable influence peddlers for those who can afford to hire them. A recent study by Public Citizen found that nearly 60 percent of the 2019 class of retiring members of Congress moved into these jobs. It is not supposed to be this way.

A wave of ethics laws began in the 1970s to restrain former government officials from selling their insider knowledge and access to the highest bidder in a troubling lobbying scheme known as the “revolving door.” At the federal level, the original Ethics in Government Act of 1978 banned former senior executive branch officials for one year from making “any formal or informal appearance before” their former agencies. In 1989, the scope of the revolving door restriction was expanded to include members of Congress and their senior staff. Many states across the country followed suit with their own versions of revolving door restrictions.

There are two solid reasons for reining in the revolving door of officials who turn into lobbyists. The first reason is to ensure that public servants are not influenced in the performance of public duties by the thought of later reaping special benefits from a prospective employer. The second reason is to prevent officials from cashing in on their inside connections. These are noble objectives, but the revolving door restrictions at the federal level remain largely a failed experiment. Congress should look to the states, the laboratories of democracy, to learn from their experiences. A review of state laws by Public Citizen shows that Iowa, Maryland, and North Dakota in particular offer some “best practices” that squarely address the ethics shortcomings found in Washington.

Despite efforts to slow the revolving door at the federal level, it is spinning way out of control. An academic study by Jeffrey Lazarus, Amy McKay, and Lindsey Herbel found that while just roughly 5 percent of lawmakers in Congress became lobbyists in the 1970s, almost half of retiring members become lobbyists today. Why have federal efforts to rein in the revolving door failed so miserably? The problem is threefold.

First, the cooling off period of one year for members of the House during which they are not supposed to be influencing government on behalf of paying clients after leaving public service is far too short. One year does not even cover a session of Congress and involves little turnover among officials and staff. In order to let inside connections fade, the cooling off period must be at least a full legislative cycle or even longer. A public opinion poll found that a solid majority of respondents favored a cooling off period of five years, while nearly half also favored a lifetime ban.

Second, the influence peddling activity prohibited during the cooling off period applies only to making “lobbying contacts.” Former officials are allowed immediately to join a lobbying firm and strategize for a lobbying campaign. They are simply prohibited from picking up the telephone and making the contact. Third, former officials are immediately allowed to make lobbying contacts with other branches or agencies in which they did not serve. This loophole is particularly problematic for elected officials and agency heads who develop strong ties across the government.

More than a dozen states recognize that a cooling off period of two years, enough for a full legislative cycle after which there is significant turnover among officials and staff, better breaks down the connections that makes revolvers so valuable. Florida is about to implement a cooling off period of six years. Importantly, more than a dozen states have expanded the scope of prohibited activity during the cooling off period to include strategic consulting for lobbying campaigns on top of making lobbying contacts. Finally, several states prohibit lobbying any agency or legislative body during the cooling off period, so no lobbying on behalf of paying clients.

What has been achieved at the state level shows what is possible at the federal level. Three key improvements of extending the cooling off period to two years or longer, banning lobbying activity as well as lobbying contacts, and prohibiting senior officials from lobbying any agency or branch of government would transform a system ridden with loopholes into an ethics policy quite capable of slowing the revolving door.

Craig Holman is the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.

 

 Birddogging Webinar Tonight at 6:30 pm MT

National training sponsored by RepresentUs on how to get candidates on the record telling us their stance on issues.

When: Tonight, August 28 at 6:30pm MT/8:30pm ET
What: Join RepresentUs Organizing Manager James Jameson to learn about bird-dogging – the highly effective tactic of getting candidates to go on the record with their stance on important issues. For more information, click here.
Where: Join the training webinar from your computer here.

On the webinar, you’ll learn all about bird-dogging: a simple, effective tactic to get candidates to take a public stance on policies.

Getting politicians on the record is the most critical step we can take to ensure they’ll address our democracy crisis as the emergency it is – and finally take action to fix it.

For assistance with joining the seminar or more information please contact Helen Humphries at Grassroots@represent.us

September 5, 2019 is National Call-In Day for the Democracy For All Amendment

Help support the Democracy For All Amendment by calling U.S. House Representatives on Thursday, September 5, 2019.

NMMOP, through Declaration for American Democracy, a national coalition of advocacy groups is working in collaboration with over 60 other advocacy groups to promote the national call-in day for the Democracy for All Amendment,H.J.Res. 2 (Rep. Ted Deusch (D-FL)/S.J.Res. 51(Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM), to be held on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.  While all Democratic senators have co-sponsored the amendment in the Senate, only 135 house representatives have signed on to the House version. SO we are asking all of you to make as many telephone calls as you can on that call-in day to encourage more house reps to cosponsor the amendment and thank those that are already onboard. Here are sample materials and here is the targeting list.

Please make these calls to show your support for the efforts of our own Senator Tom Udall and his colleagues in Congress who are fighting hard to get Big Money out of our elections and to advance the cause further!

 

NMMOP Among Reform Groups Asking DNC for Debate on Democracy Reform

REFORM GROUPS ASK DNC TO HOLD DEBATE ON PLANS TO FIX THE POLITICAL SYSTEM

Bill Theobald – Aug 20, 2019     www.thefulcrum.us

Eighteen groups promoting democracy reform sent a letter Tuesday to Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, asking for a presidential debate focused on the candidates’ democracy reform plans.

“Whether it comes to addressing our climate crisis, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, ending gun violence, or any other issue Democratic candidates have been talking about on the campaign trail, the role of a healthy democracy in achieving those ends is undeniable,” the letter states.

The groups who signed the letter are: Brennan Center for Justice, The Center for Popular Democracy, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America, Democracy 21, The Democratic Coalition, End Citizens United, Equal Citizens, Indivisible, New American Leaders, New American Leaders Action Fund, New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, People for the American Way, Progressive Turnout Project, Protect Democracy, Public Citizen, Voices for Progress and Wolf-PAC.

Democracy reform issues have played only a small role in the two sets of debates by the Democratic candidates for president.

So far, 10 candidates have qualified for the Sept. 12 debate in Houston. If more than 10 candidates qualify — based on fundraising and polling — a second night will be added on Sept. 13.
Continue reading “NMMOP Among Reform Groups Asking DNC for Debate on Democracy Reform”

NMMOP Signs On to DNC Letter Calling for a Democracy Debate

As  a member of the Declaration for American Democracy (DFAD), a coalition of over 100 like-minded nonprofit advocacy organizations dedicated to reforming and protecting American democracy, NMMOP has signed on to a joint letter to be sent to DNC Chair Tom Perez asking for a DNC-sponsored debate among the presidential candidates to focus on democracy reforms.