The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

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Iowa, North Dakota and Maryland Lead the Way on Curbing the Revolving Door Between Government and Industry

States Can Help Show the Federal Government How to Rein in Lobbying Activity by Former Public Officials


Three states in particular - Iowa, North Dakota and Maryland - have developed revolving door restrictions that effectively prevent former state officials from conducting any lobbying activity for a period of time after leaving public office - something the federal government should implement, a new Public Citizen analysis finds.

As "laboratories of democracy," the experiences among the states in trying to slow the revolving door between government and industry offer lessons for the federal government.

The revolving door is a practice in which former public officials cash in on their government service by becoming lobbyists or strategic consultants after they leave government, then selling their inside connections and knowledge to corporate interests. This revolving door muddies whether public officials are representing the public interest or corporate interests.

Several states have determined that a one-year ban on lobbying by former public officials is far too short. At the very least, the "cooling-off' period should be a full two-year legislative cycle so that turnover fades the former officials' inside connections. Florida imposes a six-year cooling-off period.

More importantly, states like Iowa, North Dakota and Maryland prohibit former officials from conducting any "lobbying activity" for compensation during the cooling-off period, not just banning "lobbying contacts" during that period as is done at the federal level.

The worst states - Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming - have no restrictions, the analysis found.

See how other states manage the revolving door here.

The government-to-lobbyist revolving door is potentially corrupting. Public officials may be influenced by the implicit or explicit promise of a lucrative job in the private sector with an entity seeking a government contract or to shape public policy. In addition, public officials-turned-lobbyists have access to lawmakers that is not available to others - access they sell for a hefty price.

Federal restrictions on the revolving door are woefully inadequate. While former U.S. senators are subject to a two-year cooling-off period, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and most executive branch officials are subject only to a one-year ban.

Worse yet, all former federal public officials are prohibited only from making lobbying contacts during the cooling-off period. They can immediately join a lobbying firm and organize and direct a lobbying campaign; they just can't pick up the telephone to contact their former colleagues.

A recent Public Citizen report that found 59% (26 of 44) of former members of the 115th Congress (2017-2019) who have found employment outside politics have gone through the revolving door and are conducting lobbying activities.

As several states have shown, an effective revolving door law should be more comprehensive than the narrow ban on lobbying contacts now prohibited under the cooling-off period at the federal level, and the cooling-off period needs to be longer than a single year.

Following the example of the "best" states, federal revolving door laws should be strengthened by:

* Extending all cooling-off periods to a minimum of two years or longer to allow the inside connections to sitting government officials to fade;

* Banning "lobbying activity" such as of conducting research, preparation, planning and supervision of a lobbying campaign as well as banning "lobbying contacts" during the cooling-off period; and

* Applying the ban on lobbying by former elected officials and very senior staff across the board to prohibit lobbying all agencies and both the legislative and executive branches of government during the cooling-off period.

"Public officials are supposed to serve the public interest of the American people," said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. "Increasingly, however, these public officials are leaving government service to work on behalf of private interests, as well as their own, as lobbyists or strategic consultants on behalf of lobbying campaigns for special interests. If we want government to work for us, we need to slow the revolving door."

Read the full report here.

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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