Open Secrets is one of the more interesting websites on the internet. It is the site for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks the influence of money and lobbying on government and elections. The organization was founded by retired red and blue senators.
The greatest feature they have is a database of fundraising and donations for all our elected officials. Take Gerry Connolly from a district in Virginia right outside DC. His biggest donors include a number of government contractors and defense companies. He sits on committees in charge of government reform and foreign policy (which includes terrorism). If you’re income is heavily dependent on government contracts he’s a good guy to be friends with. That doesn’t expose any corruptions on Gerry’s part, every member of Congress raises money from such donors, it’s just good to know information.
But today I want to talk about another feature the website offers: their database of revolving door DC insiders. If you aren’t familiar with the revolving door allow me to explain. Washington DC is the most networked city in the world. It’s not uncommon for a government professional to work for a member of Congress, a lobbying group, a government relations department for a private company, and a labor union at varying times in their career. Always representing the interests whomever is willing to pay them.
To illustrate the revolving door I’ve selected two former staffers of very well respected Senators. One from the late Ted Kennedy and another from Mr. Mitch McConnell.
We’ll start with Peter Loge who has worked for a few members of Congress; most notably Ted Kennedy.
As the chart indicates this man left government for a private sector job for a few years but then came back to lobbying. He did that for 5 years for a couple of firms then left to work for another member of Congress.
Now look at Janet Grissom who has had a similar career only she started with Mitch McConnell back in the late 80s.
Grissom has had a longer career than Loge, but she hasn’t quite completed the full revolving door yet of government, private sector, lobbyist, back to government yet. During most of the Clinton years Grissom seemingly left DC to work for Ford but don’t be fooled. Her title at Ford was “VP; Washington Affairs”. Halfway through the Bush presidency she left Ford for a lobbying firm that counts dozens of Fortune 500 companies amongst its clients. When Obama took office she moved to another lobbyist that courts similar clientele including her former automotive employer.
There is nothing illegal about these activities. And the two insiders I highlighted here were cherry-picked to highlight what a successful DC career can look like. It’s not just government aids either. Former elected and appointed officials are doing the same thing. But just because it’s not illegal doesn’t make it right. To me, the fact that lobbyists and government workers seem to be interchangeable is downright worrisome. This isn’t how this game was supposed to be played.