When Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said they might be able to strike a deal on anti-lobbying legislation, it was either going to be the greatest bill ever — or an unworkable pipe dream.
The two lawmakers’ vow to work together on a lifetime ban for members of Congress from federal lobbying is shaping up to be the latter, according to analysts who say they’re messing with fellow lawmakers’ livelihoods.
A brief Twitter romance last month saw Mr. Cruz and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez flirt with, then agree to work on a bill together that would impose a lifetime ban on members of Congress engaging in federal lobbying.
It sparked a new round of interest, with Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and conservative Republican Rep. Chip Roy enthusiastically jumping on board.
This week, Democratic Reps. David Cicilline and Dave Loebsack stepped up, announcing they were reintroducing their own lifetime ban legislation, which carried penalties of up to $50,000, or even jail time, for those who break the ban.
“Washington is broken. People have lost faith that the federal government is working on their behalf and instead is advancing the interests of powerful corporate special interests,” Mr. Cicilline said in a statement. “This problem is made worse by the revolving door between Congress and big lobbying firms.”
The surge of attention to lawmakers-turned-lobbyists came after Public Citizen and Center for Responsive Politics each released reports with data on outgoing members of the 115th Congress, which ended in January.
They found that more than 20 former lawmakers who left Congress last year have already joined lobbyist or consulting firms.
“It is fairly common,” Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at the CRP, told The Washington Times. “We find that at least half of members end up eventually going to some sort of influence occupation whether it be for a lobbying firm or trade association or some other sort of company.”
Lawmakers can start lobbying the executive branch immediately after leaving office, though under current law they have to wait up to two years — one for representatives and two for senators — before they can register as a lobbyist and work their former colleagues on Capitol Hill.
However, experts say many find other ways to exert influence.
Just two of the 23 tracked by CRP have registered as lobbyists. The others, while joining influence-peddling operations, choose similar paths that don’t require registering, such as strategic consulting or offering advice without actual contact.
“They’re like lobbyists-in-waiting or shadow lobbyists,” Mr. Auble said. “Doing everything except making that actual contact during the cooling-off period.”
Proposing lobbying bans is popular. Getting it done has been trickier.
Before Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and Mr. Cruz, the last big bipartisan grouping to make waves was Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, now a 2020 presidential hopeful, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, and then-Sen.Al Franken, a Democrat.
“There’s already been bipartisan bills. It’s definitely clear that is a concern for people of both parties,” said Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project. “The revolving door seems normal to those of us who’ve lived, worked in D.C. for a while, but it really doesn’t sit well with people outside the Beltway.”
Another proposal by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, introduced last year, would extend the lifetime ban beyond members of Congress to include former presidents and top administration officials.
On Thursday, they said their ban would have prevented former chief of staff John Kelly from joining the board of directors for Caliburn International, a company that oversees several immigrant shelters, including the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) in Florida, which has more than 3,000 beds.
“We intend to keep working to make that plan law so that actions like General Kelly’s rapid, cynical and unethical shift from the government payroll to the contractor’s payroll are no longer allowed,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.
What is not clear is whether the star power Mr. Cruz and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez bring to the issue will bring them any more luck than the previous efforts.
John Fortier, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Democracy Project, said a lifetime ban is essentially asking lawmakers to vote for limiting their own job prospects.
“Absolutely limiting somebody from going into things related to their expertise when they were in Congress ultimately makes it harder to get it through Congress,” he said.
Mr. Fortier and Mr. Auble both said for that reason a lifetime ban also raised questions about whether it was constitutional.
“Are you limiting citizens’ right to petition? Are you limiting people from having a profession that’s related to their expertise, which the court would signifcatly narrow,” Mr. Fortier said.
Mr. Fortier said pushing a lifetime ban is more about sending a message than trying to make actual reform.
“It’s an outsider-type issue,” he said. “It’s really meant to say, ‘We’re against this. We’re outsiders.’”
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