"Sometimes They Come Back" is the name of an old Stephen King short story in which some dead greasers become ghost-zombie killers who return to this earthly plane to finish murdering a schoolteacher. Scary stuff! Almost as scary as what happens in Washington, D.C., where the "sometimes they come back" scenario applies to lobbyists who come shambling back as congressional staffers after serving powerful interests. What do they do when they come back? Mainly they keep serving their former paymasters, thanks for asking!
The story of the backside arc of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street is told well and in great detail in a story in today's Washington Post by R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen, titled, "Lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill jobs." I know, I know: the conventional wisdom is that our legislative branch mainly produces the lobbyists of the future, and that those top-dollar rewards are the main reason that anyone goes into public service in the first place. But sometimes lobbyists return to the Hill, to continue their private-sector advocacy by saying to legislators, "Here, let me just write that energy bill for you, the way my old boss, who purchased this seat for you, wants it to be written."
New tallies indicate that nearly half of the roughly 150 former lobbyists working in top policy jobs for members of Congress or House committees have been hired in the past few months. And many are working on legislative issues of interest to their former employers.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, which led other House panels by hiring six lobbyists this year, is drafting legislation sought by oil and energy firms. At least four staffers on the committee payroll worked for those industries last year.
Before you say, "Wow, how shocking," in that sarcastic tone of yours, consider the fact that this is a story that often goes untold. Typically, the Beltway media covers the world of lobbying as a funny bit of fauna in the D.C. ecosystem. They throw great parties and give people gifts and they are all so charming! Also, lobbyists are basically fawned over because they have such tremendous expertise. In fact, this is why lawmakers hire them back. The trend that Smith and Eggen report on today is that the "influx of more than 100 new lawmakers" (most of them on the Republican side) has given rise to a new round of former lobbyists coming back as staffers. And what do "GOP legislative aides" have to say about this?
GOP legislative aides say lobbyists are often desirable hires because they have deep experience in the policy details surrounding major issues. "We try to hire the smartest, most talented people we can for every staff position," [Rep. John Boehner spokesman Michael] Steel said.
Of course, it's critical to point out that these lobbyists aren't hired for their general policy expertise or knowledge of how policy affects ordinary Americans. Their "deep experience" lies in being able to shape policy so that the outcomes favor the powerful interests that once employed them. Since those lawmakers have been purchased by those interests in the first place, it just makes sense to let the former lobbyists write the policy. The seamless circle of life!
But critics say the practice can create conflicts of interest, especially if staffers plan to return to lobbying jobs.
And they do plan to return, believe me. So when you hear that, "Many who left lobbying jobs to work in Congress took substantial pay cuts," don't get too choked up by the nobility of going from a seven-figure salary to a six-figure one -- it's a revolving door. Everyone will be well taken care of.
As reported, the general trend of late has been for newly minted GOP legislators to hire zombie lobbyists to voodoo up your legislative process, but the phenomenon is systemic. Consider, for example, the curious case of Liz Fowler. Fowler went from being the chief counsel for the Senate Finance Committee to being the vice president for public policy and external affairs at health insurer WellPoint in 2006. But two years later, Fowler returned to the Hill as an aide to Democratic Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), where she -- guess what? -- made sure that WellPoint's interests were favored during the health care reform debate.
Naturally, she then moved on to a position in the White House, where her job description became "to 'oversee' the implementation of the law."
I'm sure that Fowler took a substantial pay cut to do both of those jobs, as well, but I'm not worried about her livelihood, because if there's one thing that Max Baucus is very, very good at, it's getting his former staffers high-paying jobs in the health care lobbying industry.
Anyway, if you've had the sinking feeling that most legislation is so out of touch with the needs of your day-to-day life that it had to have been written by slavering undead creeps, now you know why.