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Members of Congress Fail to Disclose Future Employment Negotiations; Revolving Door Continues to Spin

Public Citizen Uncovers Low Compliance With Disclosure Law Meant to Inform the Public of Conflicts of Interest


Retiring members of Congress are largely failing to disclose their negotiations for future private-sector employment, despite a reform law that intended for them to do so, a new Public Citizen report shows.

The report, "The Failure of Congress to Disclose Future Employment Negotiations," finds that, since 2008, only two percent of U.S. House of Representatives members and 14 percent of U.S. senators leaving office filed public disclosures of employment negotiations. But a Roll Call article this month reveals that at least 24 members left Congress to pursue positions in law, lobbying, business, academia or nonprofits during the 2015-2016 session alone. Public Citizen found only one employment negotiation disclosure publicly filed in that session.

"The ethics committees in both the House and Senate have created loopholes through rulemaking that have literally swallowed the law," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen's Congress Watch division. "Almost no one complies with the disclosure requirement, which means that Congress and the public remain in the dark whether members who are planning on leaving Congress may already be beholden to a private employer."

The report recommends that congressional ethics rules and advisories specify that lawmakers be required to disclose negotiations as soon as there is two-way communications between a lawmaker and a potential private-sector employer. Right now, the House requires disclosure only when lawmakers themselves determine a conflict of interest exists. The Senate rule is that negotiations may not commence until a successor has been selected and that lawmakers do not need to report any employment negotiations beyond that until an actual job offer has been made.

Public Citizen recommends eliminating the self-policing standard and that disclosures be posted online instead of buried in congressional files.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA) included a requirement that members disclose their private-sector job negotiations while in office to put a spotlight on potential conflicts of interest between their official duties and private-sector employers. This requirement came on the heels of the 2003 "Billy Tauzin scandal," in which the former congressman played a key role writing and promoting legislation widely considered a gift to the pharmaceutical industry, then announced a few months later that he was leaving Congress to take a multimillion-dollar job as head of PhRMA, the industry's trade association.

"This absence of transparency of future job negotiations raises serious conflict of interest concerns. We've seen these abuses before," said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen. "Without disclosure, we cannot be sure that retiring members are promoting legislation in the public's interest, rather than looking at the prospects of lucrative private-sector employment opportunities."

Read the report (PDF).

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

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