Revolving Door Really Spinning

Among the not-so-frequently-discussed implications of the Republican takeover in the Senate was the return-from-exile of many former GOP staffers who left the Hill when Democrats reconquered the chamber in 2006, sending them off to K Street lobbying jobs where they languished with less official power but a hell of a lot more money. Now they are rushing back to Congress like–well, choose you own infestation metaphor, recognizing these are actual human beings with virtues as well as vices. But man, you gotta figure the net vice level is going to go up on Capitol Hill, given the rapid pace with which that door is revolving, per this report from Politico‘s Anna Palmer.

As Republicans take control of Congress, they are bringing in veteran influence peddlers to help them run the show. Nearly a dozen veteran K Streeters have been named as top staffers to GOP leaders or on key committees as lawmakers prepare to take the gavel in January.

For instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell named Hazen Marshall policy director earlier this week. Marshall, a former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee, has spent the last 10 years as a lobbyist at the Nickles Group representing dozens of clients like AT&T, Comcast and energy company Exelon….

And while former staffers-turned lobbyists often end up back in public service — the revolving door has been swinging for years — there is a notable increase in the pace of K Streeters making the move back to Congress this month.

Well, at least those giving up the seven-figure salaries to go back to tiny six-figure salaries (for a while, at least) have to be motivated by pure selfless patriotism, right?

Well, maybe not entirely.

Although lobbyists are sure to take a pay cut to return to the public sector — former long-time staffers can also use the time to increase their pensions and reach the next level of compensation.

It’s all part of the career-long climb up the slippery pole in the permanent ruling class, with its own rough justice: at any given moment, top-level staff types may be helping run Congress, or run the country in the executive branch, or failing any direct power, getting rich. It all works out in a satisfying manner. And such restrictions as exist (which were indeed increased in 2007, to some extent in reaction to the Abramoff scandal) mainly involve the “cooling off period” limiting direct lobbying of former employers and colleagues for a year (or in the case of actual senators, two years). As Bruce Reed pointed out back in 2005, less attention is paid to incoming lobbyists:

One of the biggest loopholes in our current ethics laws is what might be called the Cheney rule: Conflicts of interests are forbidden for one year after you leave government, but when you enter government service, you can bring in all the conflicts of interest you like. The law assumes that the revolving door goes one way — out. But Vice President Dick Cheney, who headed the administration’s energy task force just months after stepping down as CEO of an energy company, showed how you can bring them in. He is the latest proof that conflicts can be the work of a lifetime.

And that’s the real problem.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.