A majority of potential voters — both liberal and conservative — back proposed legislation that would force former congressmen and congressional aides to wait longer before cashing in their government experience as lobbyists, according to a new study by the University of Maryland.
Currently, former House members and senior staffers must wait one year, and former senators two years, before they may lobby their former colleagues. The study found nearly four in five prospective voters approved extending former members’ cooling off period to five years or more. Almost one in three said members of Congress should never be allowed to lobby their former colleagues.
Senior congressional staffers aren’t spared potential voters’ dissatisfaction, either: 79 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats would like to see congressional staffers wait two years until lobbying instead of one.
The transition from lawmaker to influencer-for-hire is a Washington, D.C., tale as old as telegrams and Ford Model Ts: Out of the 61 lawmakers who left office in January 2017, 19 of them found jobs in lobbying shops, though often with titles such as “strategic adviser” to avoid breaking the rules, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
“What’s most striking is the degree of the unanimity of imposing these limits because they are rather severe,” said Steve Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation, which conducted the study. “Former members of Congress are seen as a major conduit in a way that Americans see as not serving the common good or common interest.”
One emerging pattern in particular caught Kull’s eye: how much conservatives favored stricter rules.
“I was surprised how many of these bills come from Republican sponsors, and how the Republican public was much more in favor,” Kull said. “That has not always been the case, and campaign finance reform tends to lean the other way.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle introduced bills earlier this year that would change former members’ lobbying ban to five years. None of the legislation has yet made it out of subcommittee, meaning it’s unlikely to pass during 2017 or 2018.
“Is public pressure alone going to do it? No. But there is an active effort in numerous bills in Congress,” Kull said. “Clearly, members of Congress know that this is the kind of thing that the public is very unhappy about and they would get some credit. At the same time, it does have a pretty significant impact on their future earning potential, so they probably feel ambivalent about it.”