Yes, the Congressional Retirement Plan™ Is the Real Source of Corruption

Six years ago, I wrote a post that was spread hither and yon because it apparently described the real source of political corruption–giving lawmakers cushy jobs after they leave office:

If their reluctance to support a public option were based solely on the electoral calculus of campaign donations versus popular support–that is, votes–the votes win hands down. Any Democratic senator in a swing state who needs independent and Republican votes can’t afford to piss off the ~50% of Republicans and ~70% of independents who support a public option. To the extent that an Evan Bayh is supported by independents and Republicans, does he really think that these crossover voters are the ones who oppose a public option? (Actually, Bayh just might think so, since he’s dumber than a fucking sack of hammers). So, if this is simple electoral politics, the obvious move is to screw your donors (of course, we are talking about ‘new Democrats’ who are the most inept politicians in recorded history, so who knows?).

So, Mad Biologist, how is this about money? It’s simple: it’s about life after politics. One of the dirty secrets about many, if not most, congressmen and senators is that they like Washington, D.C., rhetoric notwithstanding. They want to stay in town after they leave (or lose) office. Once you’ve tasted the Capital of the Free World, do you really want to go back to Pierre, South Dakota? (Tom Daschle comes to mind…). It’s funny how many politicians, having made a career out of bashing War-Shing-Tun, don’t…seem…to…ever…leave.

I can’t blame them: I moved to Boston, and would be very happy to stay here. Places do grow on you. The problem comes, for politicians, when they have to find a job. For an ex-politician, there aren’t that many ‘straight paths’ to getting your next job: lobbyist and corporate board member are the easiest and the most lucrative.

But if you get a reputation as someone who opposes large business interests, what chance do you have of getting either of these types of jobs? Sometimes, the quid pro quo is very crude and direct (e.g., Billy Tauzin), but the Village’s political culture makes it clear what is acceptable. One should not be ‘populist’, or, heaven forbid, liberal.

I’m still surprised by the reaction. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the D.C. area, but I thought people knew this (apparently not). Now there’s some science to substantiate this (boldface mine):

But as a political scientist, I know that real-life corruption is much more commonplace — and frankly more boring. Usually it’s just a job offer….

According to Abramoff’s playbook on how to gain influence in Washington, you could “own” a congressional office as soon as you said to a top staffer, “You know, when you’re done working on the Hill, we’d very much like you to consider working for us.”

Those magic words win access and information more readily than campaign donations. With a job offer on the table, the official or staff member is all but working for the lobbying firm, on the taxpayers’ dime.

This isn’t just hypothetical. Political scientist Adolfo Santos has found that public officials who have plans to become lobbyists act differently while in office from their colleagues who don’t. Interestingly, they are more successful at passing the bills they introduce than officials who don’t go on to be lobbyists. Does this behavior reflect their desire to please their potential future employer or something else? We can’t tell. What we do know is that public officials who are no longer thinking about reelection are freed from the sanctioning power of constituents.

We should have a ten-year lobbying ban combined with a larger pension: better that we the people buy them off than corporate lobbyists.

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1 Response to Yes, the Congressional Retirement Plan™ Is the Real Source of Corruption

  1. mosingal says:

    I agree, given the whoredom of Dick Gephardt, a man who has sold out virtually every principle he once held.

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