A long-shot proposal to ban former members of Congress from K Street for life won a cosponsor on Monday in Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester.
"From an ethics standpoint it's the right thing to do," said Tester in an interview with HuffPost. "From a transparency standpoint it's the right thing to do."
The bill, authored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Col.), would prohibit any member of the House or Senate from taking a job with a lobbying firm after retiring. It would force staffers to wait six years before becoming lobbyists, and it would force lobbyists to wait six years before they can become staffers -- a phenomenon that gets little attention despite its prevalence. And the bill would ban campaign contributions from lobbyists, who contribute tens of thousands of dollars over meals and hundreds of thousands in mysteriously legal "bundles."
"There has been a revolving door between staff members that go to work for senators, go back out in the private sector, come back, go to work for senators, and there's been a ton of senators who've gone to the lobbying arena," Tester said. "My guess is they're probably making pretty good coin doing it."
This bill, Tester said, "helps clean up a perception of Washington that it's an insider's game and it's just a group that keeps switching from job to job."
Tester pledged during his 2006 campaign never to allow lobbyists to join his staff or to allow departing staffers to turn around and lobby their former colleagues. In February, when a staffer named Jason Rosenberg quit to work for K Street giant the Glover Park Group, Tester's office stressed that Rosenberg had exited a one-way door.
Nothing personal, says Tester. "It's not that I don't like the guys, it's that I don't talk to them. They have no access whatsoever once they walk out the door."
Other congressional offices are feeling pressure to deny access to former staffers. Sen. Barbara Mikulski banned the former staff director of her subcommittee office, Peter Rubin, from talking to her personal office for a year when he announced this spring he'd be heading to K Street. And in the House, Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) banned a former committee staffer from lobbying the committee so long as Frank holds the gavel.
In April, good-government watchdog Public Citizen asked the 47 retiring members of the House and Senate to sign a pledge promising they would never become influence peddlers. An easy pledge to take, you'd think, but no retiring member was willing to sign on.
But the two senators behind the "Close the Revolving Door Act of 2010" have effectively made that promise.
"The Bennet-Tester bill is a bold step towards reducing corruption in Congress," said Public Citizen's Angela Canterbury in a statement to HuffPost. "We absolutely should close the revolving door, but when we do, we also must be sure that we are not shutting out advocates and experts who 'lobby' not for big business interests, but rather, are among the few who represent the interests of ordinary people -- folks who cannot afford high-priced K Street lobbyists. To help clean up Washington, other members of Congress should support this bill and take our personal integrity pledge to refuse the revolving door."
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