Of the many reasons for public discontent with government generally and Congress particularly, none is more obvious than the wholesale movement of former members of both Houses of Congress into the lobbying business. The massive lobbying industry is quick to remind us that lobbying is perfectly legal, or perhaps it is better to say not illegal, and that it has been going on from the beginning of parliaments. That may be technically true, but it neglects the critical point that, when conducted by former members of Congress, and now increasingly their wives and children, lobbying is a sophisticated way of trading titles provided by voters for substantial personal gain.
No one truly believes that John Doe is as valuable to his lobbying firm and its corporate clients as former Senator John Doe is. Senator John Doe adds prestige to the firm. More importantly, he can open doors in the offices of his former colleagues. In the lobbying business, that is pure gold. The core and centerpiece of the lobbying business is ACCESS. It is possible to count on the fingers of one hand the number of members of Congress who refuse to see a former colleague.
My relatively few years in elective office spanned a critical transition time. Very few of my Senate colleagues from the 1970s became lobbyists. For most of the great ones it was a matter of self-respect and personal honor. By the time I retired from office in the later 1980s, not only former senators but also their wives and sons and daughters were joining or forming lobbying firms and making a very great deal of money. It would take more than blog space permits to analyze the reasons for this transformation. But much of it had to do with the triumph of money over that earlier sense of personal honor. No American has the right to trade an office and a title bestowed upon him or her by the people for personal gain.
Senators Michael Bennet and Jon Tester are sponsoring legislation to bar Senators from lobbying for life. I would find it amazing if there were even committee hearings on this proposal, let alone a vote on the floor of the Senate. But such a measure would do more to demonstrate that the current Senate is serious about recapturing its dignity, its respect, and its sense of honor than any other single step I can think of. And perhaps most of all, it would go a very long way to restoring the confidence of the people in their government.
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