A new report from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) looks at the pervasiveness of former lobbyists now working in congressional staff positions. The number of former lobbyists in Congress has more than doubled between the last Congress and the current one, with a significant partisan skew. In the current 112th Congress, 79 former lobbyists work for Republicans while 48 for Democrats; during the Democratic-led 111th Congress (which ran from 2009-2010), 33 worked for Democrats, while 27 worked for Republicans.
The report, titled “From Hired Guns to Hired Hands: ‘Reverse Revolvers’ in the 111th and 112th Congresses,” is available in full here and has a number of noteworthy takeaways:
- 60 former lobbyists worked in critically important staff positions in the 111th Congress, 128 former lobbyists can be found working in the same positions in the 112th Congress.
- The House Energy and Commerce and the House Financial Services committees have the highest cumulative number of former lobbyists employed by their members. The lobbyists of certain companies may be highly desirable to members of Congress serving on committees that handle legislation of concern to these companies. AT&T alone has six former lobbyists who at one point lobbied on behalf of AT&T and now work for senators or representatives sitting on the Senate or House committees related to energy and commerce.
- 50 former finance sector lobbyists work in the 112th Congress, as do 44 former telecommunications sector lobbyists and 40 former healthcare industry lobbyists. Meanwhile, only seven former labor lobbyists occupy these congressional staffer positions.
- Certain companies — particularly telecommunications, healthcare and defense contracting firms — are well-represented in the portfolios of former lobbyists now working on Capitol Hill. CRP notes a particular example involving Lockheed Martin. “Charles Kinney, currently working for Sen. Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.), lobbied on behalf of Lockheed in 2004… Now, Kinney is deputy chief of staff and general counsel for Manchin, who currently sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as the Senate Budget Committee” reads the report. [Update: a representative from Manchin's office informs us that Kinney stopped working for Manchin in May. He was still staffer for the senator at the time of CRP's research]
What does this all mean? As CRP is careful to note, there are numerous reasons why lobbyists might take congressional staffer jobs. “For some people,” the report states, “working in government is exciting, fulfilling work, where the psychic rewards make up for the smaller paycheck. In other cases, people may have lost lobbying jobs due to the poor economy and find the Hill to be a place where their expertise and skills are highly valued.” However, the K Street/Congress revolving door could well spin into concerning territory, as the report concludes:
It may, plausibly, be the case that these individuals are able to keep the wishes of their former clients separate from the wishes of the constituents their bosses represent. But it may also be the case that these former lobbyists are now in the position to exercise considerable sway over everything from policy outcomes to government contract decisions and anti-trust decisions. Particularly where the issues are complicated and do not drive significant constituent interest, former clients of ex-lobbyists now working in Congress could be well placed to reap the rewards of enhanced access and deeper connections into government’s legislative branch.