Jim DeMint and The Revolving Door

It’s already been noted that Jim DeMint’s departure to head up the Heritage Foundation brings with it much greener pastures: as president, he will likely make upwards of $1 million.  And though DeMint will likely not register as a lobbyist, there is no doubt that much of his work will involve influencing public policy.

In that spirit, it seems relevant to ask: how many lobbyists are former members of Congress?  James Madison political scientist Tim LaPira tells me: 1%.  Not as high as you might think given the prevalence of headlines like these, although clearly this 1% are some of the most important.

Are lobbyists who have worked in the federal government different than other lobbyists?  LaPira points me to this paper by him and H.F. Thomas III:

In this paper we identify how many lobbyists have previously worked in the federal government — and in which venue — to investigate whether their previous public service affects their subsequent lobbying behavior. Using evidence from a new data set of professional biographies of roughly 1,600 registered lobbyists — which we link to data from almost 50,000 quarterly Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) reports — we find that revolving door lobbyists (1) frequently underreport their previous government employment, (2) have worked mostly in Congress, (3) tend to work as contract lobbyists, (4) represent a more diverse clientele, and (5) actively lobby in more policy domains than their conventional counterparts. We also find that, depending on the political context of the relevant policy domain, revolving door lobbyists’ clienteles and activities systematically vary by the highly specialized expertise and access that particular kinds of congressional experience provides.

But because the revolving door involves not only lobbyists but many others, who work in the “influence industry” as policy advocates and the like—as DeMint will—LaPira tells me that the real question should be “What fraction of all policy advocates/consultants/advisers/lobbyists/etc. are former members of Congress?”

Nobody knows.  But LaPira will present a forthcoming paper (no link as yet) in April on this subject:

How large is the revolving door? We report the characteristics of the first large-scale sample of both Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)-registered lobbyists and non-registered policy advocates prior government employment and advocacy activities to estimate the full size and shape of the revolving door population in Washington.

Stay tuned.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

John Sides

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.