WASHINGTON - December 21 - Campaign consultants who turn to lobbying once elections are over pose an ethical dilemma to some legislators, political experts and even some consultants who consider pursuing these relationships to further other clients' interests as inappropriate and unhealthy, an investigation of the practice by the Center for Public Integrity has found.
The Center's investigation reveals that "revolving door" consultants operate under less regulatory scrutiny than others pursuing lobbying, and are often at odds with the public interest. Unlike federal legislators and their staff who are banned from lobbying their colleagues for one year, campaign consultants turned lobbyists don't face similar prohibitions.
The Center matched Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports of campaign consultants hired in 2003-2004 with federal lobbyist registrations for 2003-2006 and found 22 firms that engage in both political consulting and lobbying.
The same political consultants who personally traveled with candidates or provided strategic advice on media, fundraising, or get-out-the vote efforts then used their personal capital with the elected official to lobby for new laws, government approvals or funding for clients.
Common Cause president Chellie Pingree has been one of the most outspoken advocates of reforming Congressional ethics standards to include this new breed of well-connected lobbyists. "It's another part of a very unhealthy system," said Pingree.
Congressman Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), the former House Ethics Committee chairman who retired this month, says legislators should rebuff lobbying entreaties from their campaign workers and consultants. "Not that there is evil there," said Hefley, "but there might be the appearance of evil."
Campaign consultants turned lobbyists include individuals from both major parties, all the way down to the state level. Democratic consultant Joseph Cerrell has found that campaign relationships have given him an edge over other lobbyists when approaching elected officials. "I'm the one who knows him intimately," says Cerrell. "All things being equal … I'll win every time. I'm the guy who just finished running the campaign."
Common Cause lobbyist Sarah Dufendach said she is offended that those unschooled in the "Byzantine" process of getting legislation passed would take on lobbying clients. "You also have to know the process. You have to know the timing. It comes from experience. You could maybe get somebody an appointment with a Congressman, but that's the bare minimum," said Dufendach. "As a lobbyist I am outraged. This is a dumbing down of the profession. I'm really ticked off. And you can quote me."
Click here to access the latest information on the Center's Campaign Consultants project, including a searchable database.