WASHINGTON - A Democratic corporate lobbyist is jumping into a Senate race to fill a seat made vacant by the retirement of a Republican corporate lobbyist.
The news is a major boon to Democrats, who are looking to retake the Senate, and also to people looking for evidence that the political system is deeply corrupt.
The general practice of rotating from public office into the private sector and back again is deeply ingrained, but one particular Indiana Senate seat has hosted more than its share of special interest romps. Since at least 1989, the seat has been occupied by either a former or a soon-to-be lobbyist.
Republican Dan Coats retired from his decade of service in the Senate in 1999 and became a lobbyist for banks, weapons makers and large technology firms. (Coats had been appointed to replace Dan Quayle, who gave up the seat to become the most ridiculed vice president of the second half of the 20th century.) He was replaced by Democrat Evan Bayh, the son of an extraordinarily popular progressive senator, Birch Bayh.
When Evan Bayh retired from the Senate in 2010, Coats returned to the seat. And now Coats is retiring a second time, so the seat is again available, and Bayh wants it. If Bayh wins, that means the seat’s occupancy, dating to the 1960s, will go Bayh-Quayle-Coats-Bayh-Coats-Bayh.
Evan Bayh went out the first time with a widely read column in The New York Times condemning the Senate’s dysfunction and promising he’d be returning to Indiana to teach. “I want to be engaged in an honorable line of work,” he said in an interview at the time.
He quickly thought better of it, and instead signed on with McGuireWoods, where he joined the lobbying campaign to repeal the medical device tax, which plays a role in financing the Affordable Care Act. A deficit scold while in the Senate, Bayh as a lobbyist was involved in two marquee efforts to jack up the deficit. (Bayh did not officially register as a lobbyist, as many at his high level decline to do.)
Bayh, apparently soothed of his concern about political dysfunction, signed up as a contributor to Fox News. He then joined the private equity firm Apollo and pushed against efforts to close the carried-interest loophole, which famously allows money managers to pay laughably low tax rates by pretending their income isn’t income, but instead comes from capital gains, even if they don’t put up their own money.
In addition, Bayh signed up with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest corporate lobby, to lead a PR campaign in opposition to regulations promulgated by the Obama administration. This effort sought to roll back or block the implementation of regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Securities and Exchange Commission and the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Given Bayh’s family legacy and his own popularity, he has a reasonable shot at retaking the seat now, which would mean Democrats would control both Senate seats from Indiana despite the state typically trending Republican. Because of the way the Senate gives disproportionate power to small, rural states, which trend conservative ― Alaska and California, for instance, have the same level of representation ― Democrats, in order to control the chamber, need to hold on to seats in unlikely states such as Indiana.
That puts progressives in the unpleasant position of rooting for a former senator who spent his political career calling for cuts to social spending and to programs like Medicare and Social Security, and who also spent his private years advocating for regressive policies. (At least there’s the benefit that disclosure forms will require Bayh to let the public know just how lucrative his decision not to go into teaching was.)
Baron Hill, who had been the Democratic nominee for the seat, was trailing in the race badly and announced Monday that he would step aside, which will allow Bayh to take his place on the ballot.
Hill shouldn’t have a hard time finding his next gig. He was a registered lobbyist working in opposition to the medical device tax as recently as February. As Bayh wrote about the dysfunctions of Congress in his farewell op-ed in The New York Times, “Special interests are entrenched.”
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