Fred Upton

As GOP takes power, lobbyists come home to roost

Both parties play the revolving door game, but in one key House committee, Republicans set the gold standard


Andrew Leonard
January 20, 2011 12:55AM (UTC)

In Washington, the revolving door between the lobbying industry and government service is a bipartisan affair. Neither side can claim purity, or at least not with a straight face. But sometimes you can find illuminating differences. Take, for instance, the staffing of the House Energy & Commerce committee, an incredibly influential body that until recently was chaired by California's liberal icon Henry Waxman.

The Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal reports that the committee recently announced the hiring of three lobbyists for key positions. Michael Bloomquist, fresh from a stint as lobbyist at for America's Natural Gas Alliance and the steel company Nucor, comes in as deputy general counsel. David McCarthy takes over as chief counsel to the Subcommittee on Environment and Energy, after working as a lobbyist for Algenol Biofulels. Julie Goon, a former lobbyist for America's Health Insurance Plans and public affairs director for the insurance company Humana, moves in as Senior Health Policy Advisor.

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Previously, the new chair of the committee, Fred Upton, picked Gary Andres, who has also lobbyied for major health care groups along with a blue chip list of Fortune 500 corporations, as staff director, and James Barnette, a lawyer serving time at the influential Washington lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson, as chief counsel.

Barnette, Bloomquist, and McCarthy all previously served as staffers on the committee during the last Republican-controlled House. You would be hard put to find a better demonstration of the revolving door in action.

But who, I wondered, did they replace?

Henry Waxman's staff director was Phil Barnett, who has been working for the California Congressman since 1989, including a ten year stint on the House Government Oversight Committee. Prior to 1989, Barnett was a lawyer for the Sierra Club in Alaska. Waxman's chief counsel for the subcommittee of Energy and the Environment was Greg Dotson, who has worked for Waxman since 1996, and was involved with such legislation as the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Waxman's Senior Health Policy advisor was Karen Nelson, who had been with him all the way back to 1978, and has devoted much of her entire career to expanding health care coverage for Americans.

On one side, government lifers dedicated to expanding health care coverage, protecting the environment, and crafting an energy policy that would meet the dual challenges of climate change and fossil fuel resource constraints. On the other, a crew of lawyers-for-hire who spent their four years out of power lobbying for the industries that they had previously been responsible for regulating.

To repeat, one can find plenty of examples of Democrats who play the revolving door game, particularly on the finance side. But sometimes there are still real differences to savor, and the team that Henry Waxman brought with him when he took over as chair of the House Energy & Commerce committee is one of them.

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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