Lobbying Still No. 1 Employer Of Former Senators

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As losing or retiring members of the Senate prepare to leave their offices on Capitol Hill in January, chances are their next gig will keep them in the capital and close to Congress.

It’s widely accepted that after a career in the Senate, there is a comfy office chair waiting on K Street for retired or losing incumbent members. In the last three sessions of Congress, that has remained true. The majority of losing or retiring senators took a job with a lobbying firm immediately after office. Some move on from their initial jobs.

Members of the Senate are not able to register as lobbyists right away, however. There has been a two-year cooling-off period for departing members of the Senate in effect since 1991. But that hasn’t slowed down the trend of employing former Senators, who can still advise clients about the ways of Capitol Hill.

Paul Jorgensen, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas-Pan American and former fellow at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, said the cooling-off periods aren’t long enough, and that’s why lobbying is still the No. 1 employer of former senators.

“The bottom line is that the cooling-off periods are usually too short, and the revolving door extends well beyond senators to their staff,” Jorgensen said. “Also, there are ways around registering as a lobbyist – which more and more individuals are doing.”


Only one former senator from the past three terms made it to a top lobbying firm right out of Congress. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., lost to then-Rep. John Boozman in 2010, and took a job as a special policy adviser at Alston & Bird. Of course, she couldn’t register as a lobbyist right away.

The firm made just over $12 million in 2013, making it a top-20 lobbying firm that year, but not in 2010 when Lincoln joined the firm, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

There is no example of a senator leaving office and immediately going to a top-grossing lobbying firm during the past three sessions of congress.

But that could be because the revolving door between the Hill and K Street “is most exploited by Senate and House staffers,” Jorgensen said.

He recalls an interview former lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave at Harvard. Abramoff was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials.

“Abramoff was asked: How were you so skilled as a lobbyist?  Abramoff answered that he influenced the staff and had staffers work for him. How did you do that?  Abramoff replied: I not so subtly offered them a job whenever they wanted to quit being a staffer,” Jorgensen said.

Six of the past 38 senators leaving office went to universities: Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., went to Georgetown, Richard Lugar, R-Ind.; to Indiana University; Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to Marquette University Law School; and Ted Kaufman, D-Del., to Duke University.

George Voinovich, D-Ohio, took a fellowship at Cleveland State University, and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., took a fellowship at Stanford University Law School.

“When I left the Senate I was anxious to return to my home state of New Mexico, which my wife and I have always considered our home,” Bingaman said in an email interview. “I also had no interest in lobbying the Congress. I am sure that the main factor which results in former members of congress staying in D.C. and lobbying is the financial incentive.”

Some former senators went back into government, including Hillary Clinton and former-Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb may run for president. The Democrat wrote a book after serving one term.

Others have left Washington for good, including Hawaii’s Daniel Akaka, who left the Senate in 2012. The Democrat celebrated his 90th birthday in September.    


This report is courtesy of Scripps Howard Foundation Wire. SHFWire Stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter​.