Door still revolving between Capitol, lobbyists

16 lawmakers who left in 2008 are working for groups that influence policymakers

ByFredreka Schouten, USA TODAY
April 23, 2009, 12:31 AM

WASHINGTON -- Despite congressional pledges to stop the revolving door between Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry, 16 of the 62 lawmakers who left Congress last year have landed jobs with groups that seek to influence policymakers, a USA TODAY analysis has found.

Former House members are barred from lobbying their former colleagues for a year after leaving office and former senators must wait two years. But nothing prohibits former lawmakers from immediately starting to advise clients on how to navigate the congressional process, having contacts with administration officials, or working as a state lobbyist.

Those who found work include former Oregon senator Gordon Smith, a Republican who is a senior adviser at the law and lobbying firm, Covington & Burling; former Maryland representative Albert Wynn, a Democrat and senior adviser at Dickstein Shapiro; and former GOP representative Tom Feeney, who is lobbying in his home state of Florida.

Craig Holman of the non-partisan watchdog group Public Citizen said the moves reflect "an utterly failed revolving-door restriction."

"They can't call or visit a congressional office for a lobbying purpose but can do all the work on a lobbying campaign," he said.

Former lawmakers defended their choices.

"You are doing what counselors at law do all the time — that is, help people deal with legal situations in which they find themselves," said Smith, who lost his bid for a third term in November. "Some of that involves the judicial branch; some of that involves the legislative branch; some of that, the executive branch."

He declined to reveal his clients but said he is working on international trade and foreign policy. He served on a Senate international trade panel.

Wynn also declined to disclose his clients, but said he is advising them "on how Congress works and strategies or tactics that would be helpful, where information can be obtained, what the timing ought to be of certain activities, who members of Congress are that might be receptive."

Wynn, who resigned his congressional post in May after losing his primary, said he is "likely" to register as a lobbyist when his cooling-off period expires in six weeks.

Thirteen Republicans and three Democrats work in government relations for firms or groups that lobby, the analysis shows. That's not surprising: Republicans who left Congress in 2008 surpass Democrats by more than 6-to-1. The analysis excludes ex-lawmakers who joined the Obama administration.

Others at organizations with lobbying interests include former Virginia Republican senator John Warner, who is a partner at Hogan & Hartson, the eighth-highest grossing lobbying firm in 2008; and former Alabama representative Bud Cramer, a Democrat who is chairman of Wexler & Walker Public Policy.

Warner said he is avoiding any work on Capitol Hill to abide with ethics rules but is advising clients on executive-branch matters.

Cramer did not return telephone calls. The firm's news release touts the Democrat's "strong working relationships" with senior officials in the Obama administration and his influence on the Capitol Hill as a founding member of a moderate group of Democrats known as the Blue Dogs.

Lawmakers are also finding work in their home states. Feeney, for instance, has joined his old law firm in Orlando. He lost re-election after Democrat Suzanne Kosmas criticized him for traveling to Scotland with then-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who went to prison in 2006 for fraud.

"This is a very lucrative avenue for former members of Congress," Holman said of the state-level lobbying. "They have as much, if not, more recognition than most state officials do."

Feeney, a registered lobbyist for two Florida cities, said he practices law "80% of my time." As a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, "I know the players," he said.

Between 1998 and 2004, 43% of former lawmakers became lobbyists, Public Citizen reports.

The move can be lucrative. Former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle recently reported earning $2.1 million over two years as an adviser at lobbying firm Alston & Bird. The current majority leader's pay: $193,400 a year.

Those who joined groups that do lobbying say life is different. "It was nice to have a staff and say, 'I need a memo on this' and an hour later have it in my hands," said former representative Jim McCrery, who joined a government-relations firm in January. "Now, I'm doing the memos."

Where they are now