The Congressional Retirement Plan™ Is Thriving

Long before the cool kids were pointing the phenomenon of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists, a constant theme of this blog–and one which apparently, at the time, was considered novel in the bloggysphere (I thought I was just restating the obvious)–is the corrupting influence of life after politics (boldface added):

…it’s not about the campaign contributions. 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? …So, if this is simple electoral politics, the obvious move is to screw your donors….

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.

Seven years later, Vox joins the party (boldface mine):

Members of Congress now make $174,000 a year — not a bad living. But usually they can at least quintuple that salary by switching over to lobbying once they retire. And many of them do just that.

…the rate of retiring members going to lobby has grown steadily over time, though it seems to have peaked around 2000. The Senate exhibits more up and downs because fewer senators retire each year, making the percentage trends more sensitive to small fluctuations.

Back in the 1970s and ’80s, it was relatively rare for former Congress members to become lobbyists. This makes sense, since the lobbying industry was not nearly as big then. The real growth of lucrative Washington lobbying has been since the 1990s, trends that I document in my book The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate. Now reported lobbying is a $3.2 billion-a-year activity….

In general, former members charge considerable sums for their lobbying time, because the market will bear it, which means that mostly they wind up representing corporate clients who can pay for their high rates. This contributes further to the already wild imbalance in who gets represented in Washington. In my book, I found that for every $1 spent by public interest groups and unions combined, corporations spent $34. Some of this disparity, no doubt, is because those corporations are paying for the pricey former members of Congress.

And there are consequences:

Besides, the bigger problem is not that members of Congress become lobbyists. It’s that they primarily become corporate lobbyists. If they all went to work as lobbyists for public interest groups, there would probably be little outrage.

Perhaps, then, we ought to figure out how to make it more likely that former members use their connections and experience to represent general interest lobbying causes. Ideas are welcome.

I have an idea: much larger pensions and salaries. While it might be galling to some to give them more money (Steve… King…bleech), if this were combined with very strict post-office restrictions, there would be less need to rake in the bucks.

We get the government we pay for. The question is who is paying?

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3 Responses to The Congressional Retirement Plan™ Is Thriving

  1. Ben says:

    Different approach: require retired lawmakers to live in their home district for 1 year for every 2 years they served. If they don’t want to be long term residents in their district they shouldn’t represent it.

  2. beb says:

    Larger pensions won’t have a big enough effect since corporations will simply match the higher pension and write off as a business expense. A flat 5-year ban on lobbying after serving in Congress seems the only approach. But to get this we would have to declare that the appearance of corruption is corruption.

  3. jrkrideau says:

    @beb
    A five-year, post-employment prohibition on lobbying is imposed on all former DPOHs and designated former members of prime ministerial transition teams.
    A DPOH is ” designated public office holder”
    Like this?http://www.ocl-cal.gc.ca/eic/site/012.nsf/eng/h_00008.html
    Actually there seems to be some nasty holes in the legislation or its interpretation but the idea is there.

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