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By The Numbers: 'Retiring' Congressmen Become Lobbyists

by Lindsay France, published

At 4:30 pm Friday, July 20th filing ended. Barring death or yet another scandal, we now have our final roster of candidates running for office in November, and a list of those who are retiring. How many retiring Congressmen are set to become lobbyists in 'the swamp,' which they promised to drain? Last year it was nearly 40%. Let's look at the odds.

Twenty-six Republicans and eight Democrats are walking away from public office altogether once 115th Congress wraps up.  The last time we saw numbers this high, 27 Republicans were bailing in 2008, but not before 25 Democrats did the same in 1992, however, the total number has not been seen since the early 1940's.

Not all 34 people stepping away from the podium will be moving back home because whether they were worn out by party politics, scared by more scandal, or told off by Trump on Twitter, a much lucrative industry awaits them right inside the beltway.

Which means that if your marriage has survived, it’s time to fly the wife to DC permanently, close on a house in Northern Virginia, and buy the kids lacrosse sticks after enrolling them at Sidwell Friends. That kind of money couldn’t be earned in office. According to the Sunlight Foundation, the median for lobbyists with government experience was $300,000.

Let’s not forget what we heard from former Representative Jim Moran (D-Va.) in 2014 , “I think that American people should know that the members of Congress are underpaid,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) in April 2014, when discussing the  need to adjust Congress's take-home pay from  $174,000. He retired and went into lobbying for McDermott, Will, and Emery.

Next At Bat

Nearly 40 percent of office holders who left their seat in January of 2017 went through the revolving door to become lobbyists.  That’s a drop from more than 51 percent in 2016.

Among retiring members of Congress, members of the House have stacked up an average of 16.8 years of experience, those seeking elected office elsewhere have half of that. For a prominent lobbying firm, a retired officeholder's names on their ledger are gold; there isn't any question of sufficient policy expertise or consistent access to decision makers. They know whom to speak with and how. Mick Mulvaney, the former Republican congressman from South Carolina and current White House budget director, said at an American Bankers Association conference. “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) leads to pack, elected in 1990, he spent nine years in Republican leadership of the House and promptly joined Squire Patton Boggs as a ‘strategic advisor.’ Also, he scooped up more than $130,000 from big tobacco during his 2014 campaign, and he is now on the board of the nation’s second-largest tobacco company.

These newly minted ‘advisers’ must treat a bit lightly through the loophole-ridden lobbying legal restrictions. There is a one-year cooling off period between when a former public official leaves office and when they can formally lobby. But that’s easy to get around. They loosely act while identifying the principal players, organizing a lobbying effort, making the connections, flagging up who needs to be met with and talked to – except they don’t make a phone call and, in some cases, avoid email. Someone else can handle that.

As we wait to see who will go to bat for the American people after the November midterms, let’s keep an eye on another game in town: those who used to bat for us but now swing for lobbying firms. Give it a few months though, because while recruitment has begun, they need that cooling off period first.



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