Two years after they left the federal government and one year after a ban that limited their lobbying activities expired, more than half of the top one hundred Clinton White House officials went on to represent, work for or advise businesses and entities in areas they regulated while they were in office, a Center for Public Integrity survey has found.
The officials include cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, heads of independent agencies, and senior staff members of the president’s executive office who were on the job on the last day of the Clinton presidency.
The survey represents the first time that anyone has systematically tracked the financial interests of the top officials of an administration after they had left office. In a report released in January last year, the Center examined the finances and professional affiliations of the top 100 Bush officials prior to their joining the administration.
The current survey offers a glimpse into how entrenched the phenomenon of the revolving door—in which industries, corporations and special interests hire ex-government officials hoping to gain access to their former office and colleagues—has become in Washington. No one knows precisely what percentage of officials, historically, take up private sector jobs where questions of potential conflicts of interest could arise, but those who have followed presidential appointments for decades say the number of Clinton officials who made such switches is about average.
“It is a normal number, or maybe smaller than normal number,” presidential scholar G. Calvin Mackenzie told the Center. Mackenzie, the Distinguished Presidential Professor of American Government at Colby College, is author of several books and studies on presidential appointments, including Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process and The Politics of Presidential Appointments.
Since leaving office, at least 17 top Clinton staffers have lobbied on behalf of corporate or individual clients, including former Deputy Secretary of Treasury Stuart E. Eizenstat and former Director of White House Legislative Affairs Charles Brain. Not all of them are currently registered to lobby.
Another 10 have joined law firms that also lobby, including three past Cabinet members: Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, Interior Chief Bruce Babbitt and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.
An additional two-dozen have found positions in the private sector as executives or directors. They include Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Only those Clinton officials who stayed on until January 19, 2001 and beyond to hand over the bureaucratic baton to the Bush team were included in the survey. Not counted were senior staffers who’d left office in favor of K Street—which houses many of Washington’s influential lobby and law firms—and other private sector jobs towards the end of Clinton’s term. These include former White House counsel Jack Quinn (the lawyer for American-Swiss businessman Marc Rich, who was granted a controversial last-minute pardon by the outgoing president), Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, and former Special Assistant for Legislative Affairs Dan Tate Jr.
In recent years, a slew of high-profile, senior figures from successive administrations and members of Congress have left public service for private sector jobs. While some became corporate executives, consultants and directors, others joined K Street firms that lobby on behalf of businesses and special interests.
One of the most prominent examples is Vice President Dick Cheney, who went to work for Halliburton Corp. after leaving the Defense Department in the early 1990s. Cheney’s predecessor, Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, left the Reagan White House in January 1989 and became a managing director at the private global investment firm Carlyle Group later that year. He has been the chairman of the company since 1993.
Robert Rubin, one of the architects of 1990s’ New Economy, left Clinton’s Department of Treasury in July 1999 to become a top executive of Citigroup in October of the same year. His predecessor, Lloyd Bentsen, joined Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand as a lobbyist. William Daley, the former Commerce secretary who quit the cabinet to head Vice President Al Gore’s presidential campaign, is now with telecom giant SBC Communications.
Similarly, some leading members of Congress have gone on to lobby after their stints in government. Senate Majority Leaders George Mitchell and Robert Dole both registered to lobby after leaving the Senate. According to the New York Times, at least 22 percent of those leaving Congress in the 1990s became lobbyists.
While there is nothing illegal about this dance between private and public sectors, government ethics groups, some academic critics and Washington watchers have long raised ethical questions about the practice.
No one expects government employees “to go into a desert” after leaving public service, said Stuart Rothenberg, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report and a respected commentator. “But there is an appearance of potential conflicts of interest when individuals move between businesses and government,” he told the Center for Public Integrity. “They could be carrying allegiances and relationships that are bound to raise [ethical] questions.”
Nikos Passas, a professor at Temple University and expert on corruption and transnational crime, is even more blunt in his criticism. “[These officials] take measures that will benefit companies and interests (while in power) and then they take positions with them,” he told the Center. “I call that ‘deferred bribery.’”
Defenders say current ethics laws adequately guarantee against any potential conflicts of interest. Legal scholars such as Ted Schneyer of the University of Arizona maintain that lobbying by ex-officials is within the law and can only become a concern if they continue to wield influence with their former agencies.
What’s more, Mackenzie said, there is nothing illegal or wrong about public servants seeking positions with the private sector as long as they don’t violate the post-employment regulations that have been in place since 1978. Those laws were enacted to prevent retiring officials from reaping personal benefit on their knowledge and contacts in a way that would undermine public offices, or give unfair advantage to one interest over another, he said.
The issue of the revolving door was prominent during the 1992 presidential election. Ross Perot, the billionaire businessman who later founded the Reform Party, vowed to “slam the revolving door shut” by forbidding “anyone who has held any position in the federal government to be a paid lobbyist for any domestic interest for five years after leaving government.”
Candidate Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, also vowed to discourage the practice, which he did just after he won the presidency. In his first year at the Oval Office, Clinton signed an executive order increasing the mandatory non-lobbying period to five years. It also banned 1,100 top government officials from lobbying for foreign governments and put other restrictions on jobs after government service.
But shortly before the end of his second term, Clinton revoked that order, a move that was decried by some ethicists and critics.
Most of the Clinton White House officials the Center analyzed were eligible to lobby their former agencies after January 19, 2002, a year to the date of their last day at work. (Some Clinton aides did not resign until President Bush nominated their successors.) The 1978 Ethics in Government Act prohibits outgoing government officials from lobbying the departments and agencies they served for one year after leaving the service.
Of the Clinton aides registered to lobby, Eizenstat and Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder are partners at Covington and Burling, a mega law-lobby firm in Washington. The former president consulted Holder before granting the controversial last-minute pardon to Rich.
Eizenstat lobbied on behalf of an array of U.S. and foreign companies, disclosure forms filed by Covington revealed. According to documents from the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Unit, the one-time No. 2 at Treasury, who is also a former U.S. ambassador to the European Union, undersecretary of the Commerce Department and undersecretary of State, also represented the government of Argentina. He lobbied the United States and multilateral organizations to give financial aid to the Latin American country after its economy collapsed a year ago.
Domestically, Eizenstat lobbied the State Department and Treasury on behalf of petroleum and petrochemicals giant BP America Inc., which was opposed to the capital market sanctions in the Sudan Peace Act, passed by the House. His other clients include Aloha Airlines, Boeing, Marco International Corporation, PPL Corporation and the Egyptian International Economic Forum. The issues he lobbied range from loan guarantees for airlines to debt-relief for Russia and electricity distribution in Brazil.
Eizenstat rejected the notion that his lobbying could cause conflicts of interest. “I clear all questions about my representations with the Treasury and State departments,” he said. “I frequently call officials of these departments to see that there are no legal and ethical questions. I am very careful about it I check with officials about it.”
In the case of Brain and former White House chief of staff John Podesta, who were lobbyists before joining the administration, the revolving door came full circle, with both returning to their former profession.
Brain originally left Bergner, Bockorny in 1997 to become Clinton’s legislative affairs director, and subsequently rejoined the old firm as a principal. The rechristened Bergner, Bockorny, Castagnetti, Hawkins & Brain, Inc. boasts dozens of superstar clients, including Boeing, Monsanto Co., NewsCorp USA and Northrop Grumman Corp.
K Street veteran Podesta registered to lobby under the banner of PodestaMattoon, a firm run by his brother Anthony Podesta and Dan Mattoon. Before joining the first Clinton administration as assistant to the president and staff secretary, Podesta was president and general counsel of Podesta Associates, Inc. PodestaMattoon has scores of clients, including Lockheed Martin, Genentech, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Viacom Vivendi and the Washington Post Co. Podesta is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
At least three Clinton aides have joined companies or trade groups as in-house lobbyists. Another four have launched lobbying careers by setting up their own firms.
Deputy Defense Secretary Rudy F. de Leon was hired by Boeing, in July 2001, to head its lobbying operations in Washington, D.C.
According to the Department of Defense, Boeing was awarded contracts worth $16.6 billion in the 2002 financial year, second only to Lockheed Martin, which had secured deals for $17 billion during the same period.
In the last two years, Boeing has lobbied on a number of defense-related issues, including “aeronautics research and development,” “defense programs,” “defense and intelligence appropriations programs,” “Afghanistan Freedom Support Act of 2002,” and “Coast Guard Authorization Act 2002,” according to disclosure documents obtained by the Center for Public Integbrity.
Robert L. Mallett, former deputy secretary of Commerce, is senior vice president at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. His colleague at Commerce and undersecretary for export administration, William A. Reinsch, heads the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based trade advocacy group. The NFTC is supported by exporters such as Boeing, Chevron, Citicorp, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Halliburton, IBM, Microsoft and PepsiCo, among others.
Reinsch also serves as a commissioner at the U.S.-China Security Review Commission, a bipartisan panel created by Congress to assess the national security implications of business ties with Beijing.
Former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency James Lee Witt has started a consulting and lobby firm, James Lee Witt Associates LLC. Nextel Communications, a top wireless communications services provider, is among its clients. The filings also showed that Witt’s group contacted FEMA on behalf of a client, Whelen Engineering Co.
Ricchetti, Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff, started Ricchetti Inc., where he was joined by one of his former aides, Jay Heimbach. In its first year, the firm lured heavyweight clients such as General Motors Corp., AT&T, Siemens Corp., Eli Lilly & Co., Pharmacia Corp. and Fannie Mae.
Former Transportation chief Slater heads the transportation practice group at Patton Boggs, which, according to the National Journal, is the number two lobby shop in Washington. The former secretary, whose areas of expertise are business, trade, and transportation issues, is focusing on “many of the public policy and transportation objectives that were set under his leadership, including aviation competition and congestion mitigation, maritime initiatives, high-speed rail corridor development, and overall transportation safety and funding,” according to the firm’s Web site. Documents revealed that Slater lobbied for Evergreen International Aviation Inc. and Ancore Inspection Technologies, a manufacturer of explosives detection technologies.
Another Clintonite to enter K Street with his own lobby shop is Joel P. Johnson, previously senior advisor to the president for policy and communications, who teamed up with Washington law firm Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman, LLP to found a public affairs consulting firm, The Harbor Group. Joanna Slaney, special assistant to the president for legislative affairs, is a director at the firm. Since leaving the White House, they have represented Airbus Industrie North America Inc., Dean Foods Co. and PhRMA, among others.
James Hall, former chief of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Mickey Ibarra, Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, are the two other senior Clinton staffers to establish lobby shops. Hall & Associates, which specializes in transportation safety and security issues, represented Maximus, Porsche AG and Republic Parking. Mickey Ibarra & Associates has among its clients Verizon Communications.
In addition to Slater, two former cabinet colleagues have spun the revolving door, advising and representing clients in the areas they regulated while in office. Agriculture Secretary Glickman, who is now the director of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School at Harvard, is also a senior advisor at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld LLP, one of the biggest law and lobby firms in the country. Glickman advises clients on food and agriculture, health, biotechnology and international trade, among other issues, according to the firm’s Web site. The scores of clients the firm represents include supermarket chain Food Lion and Farmland & Grassland Protection Coalition (which includes the Nature Conservancy), according to lobbying disclosure reports.
Interior Secretary Babbitt is of counsel at the environment, land and resources division of Latham & Watkins, another giant law and lobby firm. According to documents obtained by the Center, in 2002 Babbitt also did lobbying work on behalf of the real estate development firm Pleasant County Ltd.
Leading the pack of the government leaders-turned-executives is Vice President Gore. Long before he announced his decision to skip the 2004 presidential election, the winner of the popular vote in the 2000 race has been drawing salaries from the private sector. He joined the Los Angeles-based financial service holding firm Metropolitan West Financial in November 2001.
The company said at the time of the hiring that Gore would develop business strategies in biotechnology and information technology. The former vice president was one of the leading technology advocates within the Clinton administration.
Another company that had great success in hiring former top ranking government officials is The Carlyle Group. The firm, which already had in its ranks such influential politicians as Carlucci, former secretary of State and Treasury James A. Baker III and George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, has tapped two key people from the last administration: William Kennard, formerly at the Federal Communications Commission, and Securities and Exchange Commission chief Arthur Levitt.
Kennard, who regulated the telecommunications industry during the Clinton presidency, is a managing director responsible for global telecommunications and media at the company. Levitt, the longest-serving SEC commissioner, is a senior advisor to the firm.
Also cashing in on their experience in government are Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Defense Secretary Cohen, who both started international consulting firms. The Cohen Group, launched shortly after the former Pentagon chief left office, represents corporations and interests in a variety of areas, including global telecommunications, defense and aerospace. Business law firm Piper Rudnick is a partner of the Cohen Group.
The group claims on its Web site that its principals have “a century and a half of combined experience in the Congress, the Defense Department, the State Department, the White House, and state and local governments” and that they “have developed extensive expertise and relationships with key international political, economic, and business leaders and acquired invaluable experiences with the individuals and institutions that affect our clients’ success abroad.”
Likewise, Albright’s firm, The Albright Group, advises businesses on global issues. Her cabinet colleague and EPA chief Carol M. Browner is one of the principals of the group.
Former DEA administrator and 32-year agency veteran Donnie Marshall briefly worked for DynCorp as the vice president of international operations, after leaving the government in July 2001. The company, a contractor doing business with State, Defense, Agriculture and Energy Departments, supported fumigation efforts in Colombia. DynCorp, recently acquired by Computer Sciences Corporation, trained pilots for operations against drug traffickers in Colombia. DEA under Marshall was a key participant in Plan Colombia.
However, Marshall told the Center that DEA wasn’t involved in any of the contract works that DynCorp was doing and, therefore, question of conflict of interests did not arise.
Marshall is just one of the several other top Clinton officials who have found executive positions in the private sector. Others include:
- Clinton’s National Security Advisor Samuel Berger heads a Washington-based consulting firm, Stonebridge International, which advises companies worldwide. Former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman is on the firm’s board of advisors.
- Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering became a senior vice president at Boeing, looking after its international relations division, and served as a member of the company’s executive council.
- William J. Lynn, former undersecretary of Defense (comptroller), is a vice president at Raytheon, a leading defense supplier. The firm was the fourth largest defense contractor in fiscal year 2002, snatching deals worth $7 billion. Earlier Lynn worked briefly at DFI International, a Washington-based research, analysis and consulting firm.
- Clinton’s last press secretary, Jake Siewert, is a vice president of global communications and public strategy at aluminum giant Alcoa, which was once headed by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill.
- Louis J. Freeh, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is a senior vice chairman at MBNA, the largest independent credit card issuer in the world.
- Richard Holbrooke, ambassador of the United States to the United Nations, is the vice chairman of Perseus, a merchant bank and private equity fund management firm.
One career option that came easily to many officials from the Clinton team after their stint at government was corporate directorship. The Center found that at least a dozen members from the previous administration are on the boards of major corporations, with some of them serving in more than one company.
For instance, Vice President Gore was recently named to the board of directors of Apple Computers. He is also a senior adviser to the Internet search firm Google, Inc.
Defense Secretary Cohen is a director of IDT Corporation, Cendant Corp., United Shipping & Technology, Inc. and Nasdaq Corporation. From April 2001 to April 2002, he was on the board of Global Crossing.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, now the governor New Mexico, briefly served on the board of Venoco Inc, an oil and gas company. As secretary, Richardson had invited the Venoco president to serve on the National Petroleum Council.
Richardson also served on the board of City National Corporation, Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. and Peregrine Systems Inc.
Several colleagues of Richardson are on the boards of various businesses.
- Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman is on the board of Cummins Inc. and MGM Mirage. She is also chair of both a Coca-Cola Company oversight task force and Toyota’s advisory board on diversity.
- Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, is on the boards of Gannett Co. Inc., Lennar Corporation and UnitedHealth Group Inc.
- Holbrooke also serves on the boards of Coca-Cola, AOL Time Warner and Human Genome, all giant multinationals with worldwide business interests, and American International Group Inc., a U.S.-based international insurance and financial services organization.
- Levitt, the former SEC chairman, is on the boards of Bloomberg L.P, Neuberger Berman and CCBN, a company that helps public companies use the Internet to communicate with investors.
- Kennard is a director of the New York Times Co. and Nextel Communications, Inc. He also sits on the boards of Bloomberg L.P, Neuberger Berman, and CCBN and serves as an advisory board member of M&T Bank Corporation.
- Ernie Moniz, undersecretary of Energy, is a member of the strategic advisory council at USEC Inc., the world’s leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.
The ideas industry
Other preferred career choices of the Clinton officials were public speaking, academia and think tanks. While many of his aides are on the lecture circuit as part-timers, the 42nd president has been averaging at least one speech a week and has made several millions in speaking engagements. According to disclosure reports filed by former first lady and current New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 2001 alone, the former president addressed more than 50 gatherings and took in upwards of $9 million.
Academia has also lured its share of top Clinton aides. Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence H. Summers is now president of Harvard University. Secretary of State Albright, who left Georgetown University to become a diplomat, returned to the campus as Michael and Virginia Mortara Distinguished Professor. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo is a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School; Commissioner of Social Security Kenneth S. Apfel teaches at the University of Texas at Austin; Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew is an executive vice president and professor of public administration at New York University; Defense Department Undersecretary Jacques Gansler is a professor at the University of Maryland; and Dr. Neal Lane, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, is a professor at Rice University.
Gore, who taught briefly at Columbia after his defeat in the presidential elections, is a visiting professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and Middle Tennessee State University.
Another prominent Clintonite to cross over to the ideas industry is former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who is now the president of Brookings Institution. The liberal think tank is also home to two of his former co-workers: Deputy National Security Advisor James B. Steinberg, who is a director of foreign policy studies at Brookings, and Gene Sperling, assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council, who is a guest scholar.