It’s something almost no one notices anymore, but we should. When a Senator is defeated, a cabinet member is shuffled out, or a Congressman resigns in disgrace, where do they go? The all-too-common answer is that they have a cozy position waiting for them in private industry as a lobbyist, influencing law and policy in the government they just left. That may be just annoying, but it gets worse… once they’ve been on the outside a while, they have the “track record” and “industry experience” to be politically attractive once again, so back into the government they go. They return with a hearty congratulations and bonus check from the industry they’ve just been working for, but certainly without any nasty conflicts of interest. Then they stay until the next scandal puts them on the street again, or at least back into their cushy corner office where they wait for another chance to “serve” the public. And the door goes ‘round again…
The people defending this “Revolving Door of Politics” have one plausible reason the door might exist. We as citizens don’t want an incompetent government, so when an agency (or political party) wants a person to fill a job they look to the appropriate industry to find a qualified candidate. While this may be rational on its face, it’s very limited. It ignores the fact that qualified people are available from many other sources. Yes, we want our banking regulators to understand banking, but there are people from finance, economics, law, and other areas who never lobbied at all yet still understand the field. Their “outsider perspective” may give them insights not possible to an insider. And they come without the baggage of conflicting interests.
That’s one of the biggest problems with the Revolving Door… the conflicts of interest. Unless you believe that major corporations are in politics due to a driving need to make things better for society at large (a show of hands, anyone?) then they do it because there’s a financial advantage attached. It doesn’t take much to see where that advantage lies. Having an ex-congressman on staff not only burnishes the prestige of the company, but in a world where access is power it gives an “in” to all the friends, staffers, and colleagues he once dealt with daily. It’s even worse when the congressman goes through the Reverse Revolving Door from industry into government… they carry a fat bonus check from their now-ex-employer in their back pocket, reminding them who will have a job for them when they get back out.
This corruption of a single individual is one thing, but the situation becomes much, much worse when it becomes endemic. Because the Revolving Door pervades every agency and level of government it has contributed to a phenomenon called “regulatory capture”, where the regulations and/or regulators of an industry are controlled by the industry itself. Stories of industry-friendly regulators are legion, and groups like ALEC exist solely to push legislation through an army of lobbyists and legislators dizzy from going through own revolving doors. CitiBank recently even cut out the middleman, writing the bill eviscerating banking regulation themselves and passing it on through pet legislators in the Financial Services Committee.
So that’s our subject this month… the Revolving Door of Corruption. We highly recommend you check out OpenSecrets.org amazing resource that documents exactly who is using the revolving door these days. Use it to check each member of recent congresses, as well as the employment history of most individual members. You can brush up on the basics of the problem with the explainer from HowStuffWorks, get a look at how the revolving door affects issues like TPP and banking, and find out more about the reverse revolving door that is even worse than the one we all know about. Wash it all down with a series of articles (including several excellent articles by the folks at Moyers&Company) that tackle the more detailed aspects of the problem.
Neils Bohr once said “Anyone not shocked by quantum theory doesn’t understand it”. It’s the same for the revolving door, except once you understand this flamboyant systemization of bribery you won’t just be shocked… you’ll be Furious.
The Revolving Door, OpenSecrets.org
What is the Revolving Door? Josh Clark on HowStuffWorks, Feb 2011
Bernie Sanders on Obama’s Treasury Nominee: We Don’t Need More Wall Street Executives, Amy Eddings on Ring of Fire radio, Nov 2014
The Reverse Revolving Door: How Corporate Insiders Are Rewarded Upon Leaving Firms for Congress, Lee Fang in The Nation, May 2013
Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks, Lee Fang in Republic Report, Feb 2014
Congressman Investigated By Feds Now Gets Paid By Feds To Lobby Congress, Michael McAuliff on Huffington Post, Apr, 2015
Living the High Life After Congress, Michael Winship on Huffington Post, Apr 2015
More Light Needed on Wall Street’s Revolving Door, Daniel Indiviglio in the New York Times, Nov 2014
This Day In Anonymous Sourcery: Area Source Concerned Elizabeth Warren Might Get Mad, Jason Linkins on Huffington Post, Jan 2015
Booted by Voters? Still in Hot Demand: 5 Places Former Pols Go After Leaving Congress, Janine Wedel on Huffington Post, Nov 2014
The Trouble With That Revolving Door, Thomas Edsall in the New York Times, Dec 2011
Corruption and the Revolving Door: Recent Discussions and Further Reflections, Matthew Stephenson on the Global Anticorruption Blog, Oct 2014
The Problem with the Revolving Door – It Brought Us Too-Big-To-Fail, Tiffiniy Cheng on the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch, Dec 2009
Behind the SEC’s Revolving Door, John Light on Moyers&Company, Feb 2013
Stories From Washington’s Revolving Door, John Light on Moyers&Company, Dec 2012
The Revolving Door Spins from Sea to Shining Sea, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on Moyers&Company, Feb 2013
The Washington-Wall Street Revolving Door Keeps Spinning, Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on Moyers&Company, Jan 2012
A New Spin on the “Reverse” Revolving Door, John Light on Moyers&Company, May 2013