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April 19, 2010

Public Citizen to Retiring Lawmakers: Don’t Cash in on Your Clout by Taking Private-Sector Jobs

Public Citizen Calls on Retiring Members of Congress to Sign Integrity Pledges

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As Congress delves further into financial reform legislation, retiring members of Congress might be tempted to use their influence to secure a lucrative position in the financial sector once they leave Capitol Hill. Public Citizen sent them letters today urging them not to do so.

The organization called on the 47 lawmakers (12 senators and 35 representatives) to sign a personal integrity pledge, promising not to take a job for two years with any business that lobbies the lawmaker or his or her committee.

In addition, the organization launched a petition drive, calling on voters to urge retiring lawmakers to sign the pledge. To read the letters and sign the petition, visit www.citizen.org/revolving-door-petition.

Public officials-turned-lobbyists have access to lawmakers that is not available to others – access that can be sold to the highest bidder among industries seeking to lobby, Public Citizen wrote.

“If you’re a member of Congress, you're very unlikely to clamp down on Wall Street if you're planning on taking a job with a Wall Street firm,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “You’re not likely to hurt Big Oil if you're contemplating a job with the petroleum lobby. You’re going to be more inclined to favors for Big Pharma if you think pharmaceutical companies will be signing your future paychecks. Our elected officials should pledge their loyalty to their constituents by pledging not to take jobs with businesses that have lobbied them.”

A recent Public Citizen report revealed that there were at least 150 former members of Congress actively lobbying their former colleagues in 2009. More than 900 former federal employees lobbied for the financial sector in 2009, as well. Their access greatly benefits their industry clientele, leaving the great policy debates of the day in the hands of big business. 

“As you consider pending legislation to reform the financial industry that recklessly tanked our economy, your integrity pledge is particularly important to American consumers.  The revolving door spins most wildly between Wall Street and Capitol Hill,” Public Citizen wrote.

Active lobbyists for the financial industry include former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), former Senate Majority Leader and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole (R-Kan.), former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), and former House Majority Leaders Dick Armey (R-Texas) and Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Public Citizen helped to pass the lobbying and ethics reform in 2007, but, along with other watchdogs, had urged for tougher restrictions to slow the revolving door. That law mandated that a senator must wait two years after leaving office before accepting a position as a lobbyist; a U.S. representative can cash in as a lobbyist after only one year. 

These rules have giant loopholes through which business interests drive their agendas in Washington. For instance, there is nothing to prevent a former member from accepting a job with a business that benefited from key votes made by the former member – even while negotiating the private-sector position.

“The American people are not fooled by these flaccid revolving door rules that do far too little to end pay-to-play politics,” said Craig Holman, government affairs advocate with Public Citizen. “These rules should be strengthened to prevent former members of Congress from cashing in on their public service.”

The personal integrity pledge that Public Citizen asked the lawmakers to sign reads:

“Upon leaving Congress, I will not accept employment or a leadership position for two years with any business that lobbies, issues lobby communications, or has hired lobbyists to lobby my office, committee, or staff during my last term.”

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