Law doesn't end revolving door on Capitol Hill

  • Updated: February 1, 2014 - 7:20 PM

A top aide to a GOP congressman from Arizona helped promote a legislative plan to overhaul the nation’s home mortgage finance system. Weeks after leaving his government job, he reappeared on Capitol Hill, now as a lobbyist for a company poised to capitalize on the plan.

A former counsel to Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee left Capitol Hill a year ago. He, too, returned to the Hill just months later, lobbying committee aides on behalf of Wall Street giants like JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg LP.

And the chief of staff for the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee left his government salary behind in January 2012. Yet for months afterward, he managed his boss’ re-election campaign, even while serving as a lobbyist for financial industry clients.

The experiences of the three Capitol Hill aides-turned-lobbyists — traced through interviews with political operatives and a review of public records — illustrate in new detail the gaping holes in rules governing Washington’s revolving door. Federal ethics rules are intended to limit lobbying by former senior officials within one year after they leave the government. Yet even after the ethics rules were revised in 2007 following a lobbying scandal, more than 1,650 congressional aides have registered to lobby within a year of leaving Capitol Hill, according to an analysis by the New York Times of data from LegiStorm, a database that tracks congressional staff members and lobbying. At least half of those departing aides, the analysis shows, faced no restrictions at all.

The rules are particularly loose in the House, where aides and ­lawmakers enjoy significant leeway in hopping from job to job — and from government pay to six- and seven-figure private-sector salaries. In the three cases identified by the Times, the interviews and records suggest that the former House staff members did not violate the rules but rather seized on loopholes to lobby within one year.

Some House aides resist pay raises, keeping their salaries below the cutoff that would prompt lobbying restrictions. More highly paid House aides, simply because their paycheck came from an individual lawmaker or leadership office rather than a committee they worked closely with, are immediately allowed to lobby former committee colleagues. This maneuver would be prohibited in the Senate, where senior aides cannot contact anyone in the Senate for a year.

new york times

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