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The Revolving Door of K Street

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The Revolving Door of K Street

by Nick Penniman & Ted Roach

CHIEF JUDGE 2, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: We’re in Silver Spring, Maryland, at Sligo Elementary School, Fourth Congressional District special general election. The incumbent congressman lost the primary and resigned prior to the conclusion of his current term.

CHIEF JUDGE 2, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: They called the special election to get someone in office for the few months that are remaining in his term.

PAUL BLAND, VOTER, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: I mean, he basically walked away from his seat so he could run and try to cash in a few months early, and wasted a million dollars of taxpayer money.

ALICIA HOLMES, VOTER, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Well, quitting to make more money? Okay, everybody needs money, but you should wait till your term is over.

VOICEOVER: Capitol Hill lost yet another congressman to K Street recently, as one more elected official rolled down the hill to work for a lobbying firm. Democrat Al Wynn joined the growing ranks of elected officials who parlay their public service into high-paying lobbying jobs. His path has become increasingly normal for elected officials, as the revolving door that links Congress and K Street spins faster than ever.

INTERVIEWER: Is that the way the game is played, for the most part?

BOB EDGAR, PRESIDENT, COMMON CAUSE: That’s the way it’s played, but I think Wynn is a loser. I think he has really lost the respect that anyone might have had for his service as a member of Congress.

VOICEOVER: Bob Edgar is president of the reform group Common Cause and a former congressman from Pennsylvania.

INTERVIEWER: So can you describe what the revolving door in Washington is?

EDGAR: I think it’s pretty easy to explain. Members of Congress get elected, they serve a couple of terms, and then they start eyeing opportunities around Washington, particularly among the lobbying community, to make hundreds of thousands of dollars of salary. And they start shaping their careers based on getting a high-level promotion.

DANIELLE BRIAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTER, POGO: It is so clear that this has become assumed as a part of the entitlement of being a member of Congress, and it’s totally unacceptable and should be illegal.

VOICEOVER: Danielle Brian is executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, another respected Washington reform group.

BRIAN: It is appalling to me that he thinks the assumption is, if you’re a member of Congress, this is legitimate, it is what you should be doing. And it would probably be healthy for a member of Congress to have to go back and really try to make a living like the rest of America.

VOICEOVER: Most voters we spoke with expressed a suspicion that if politicians hope to become lobbyists after they leave office, their loyalties while in office are probably affected accordingly.

TIMOTHY GREEN, VOTER, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: No, but I think the worst effect is to establish expectations from office holders that if they take certain action, they’ll be able to move to a high-paying job in the future. So in that sense it’s similar to bribery. If I know I’ll be getting a million dollars within 12 months, I’m reacting in a variety of ways and doing some things legislatively.

BRIAN: One of the grosser examples, actually, was Billy Tauzin. He shepherds a bill—pharmaceutical coverage—and then immediately goes to work for the industry. It was so appalling. It sort of set the bar for how gross can you be in selling your public service.

VOICEOVER: In case you missed it, Tauzin was the point person in 2003 who rammed through the $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription drug bill. It was a windfall for big drug companies and clearly a career boost for Tauzin. At the end of his term, he went straight from his office on Capitol Hill to his new post as CEO of PhRMA. When he did, his annual salary jumped from about $150,000 as a congressman to $2.5 million as the face of the pharmaceutical industry. So who was Tauzin really representing when he was in Congress? The same question should be asked of Wynn, who’s heading off to work for the firm Dickstein Shapiro, which represents large energy companies. While on the Energy and Commerce Committee, he was one of only a handful of Democrats who voted for what was called the Cheney Energy Bill, which The Washington Post described as, quote, "a piñata of perks." During his fifteen years in office, electric utilities donated more to his campaigns than any other industry. And although we have no idea how much Wynn will be making at the firm, we do know that it’ll be a whole lot more than what he was making on the Hill.

PAUL BLAND, VOTER, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: And I think what Al Wynn is doing here, he’s going straight to K Street, he’s going to be at Dickstein Shapiro, and he’s going to be pedaling influence, you know, now as a lobbyist, but doing essentially the same thing, fundamentally, that he’s been doing in terms of serving corporate America for the last 12 years.

VALERIE ERVIN, MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL MEMBER: If you watch the votes that he had taken during his tenure in Congress, he was really not representing the people of the Fourth Congressional District; he was representing oil and gas companies. And it’s a shame. It’s just really a shame.

BRIAN: It’s clear that Wynn is an example of a member of Congress who was very much guided by special interests.

VOICEOVER: It used to be considered dishonorable for elected officials to become lobbyists. That all changed about a decade ago. Since 1998, nearly 50 percent of Congressmen who left office became lobbyists, including some of politics’ biggest names, like Bob Dole, Dennis Hastert, Tom Daschle, J. C. Watts, John Ashcroft, Bob Livingston, John Breaux, and Trent Lott. And like Wynn Lott bailed on his constituents before his term was up to begin cashing in on K Street.

BRIAN: I think it’s clearly true that the modern perception of government is not to protect the people from unfettered capitalism.

EDGAR: And I think it’s a tragedy of our time, how money has played a role in affecting the outcome of legislation.

ERVIN: I think that Washington is controlled by special interests. It’s just obvious, the amount of money that is spent by lobbying firms.

MICHELLE RUSSO, VOTER, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little cynical, but I just know that that’s the way it works in Washington, and if you’re not an elected person, you’re probably a lobbyist.

MAURY SILVEMAN, VOTER, MARYLAND’S 4TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: The question is: is it a real defect in the system that people in Congress will come back and lobby Congress for special interests or particular business interests?

EDGAR: We need to change the way the system works. We need to get money out of politics. And we need to get public officials who come to office understanding what our founding fathers and mothers were hoping for, and that was that people would come and serve as a representative of their communities and do what is in the public’s interest, not the special interest.

ANP

AMERICAN NEWS PROJECT

newsproject.org

Camera Operators:

Ted Roach

Lagan Sebert

Garland McLaurin

Eve Qureini

Al Wynn photos courtesy of

Dan Reed

Music by

Lenny Williams

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.