Home > Political > Destroy the Revolving Door

Destroy the Revolving Door

I write a lot about America’s problems in my blog, but this time I’ll actually offer a solution. It’s not an original idea—I’m sure we’ve all thought of it at one time or another—but it’s such a simple and obvious measure we can take to get government working on behalf of the people again that it bears repeating as often as possible.

We’ve all heard the term “revolving door congress” which refers to the implicit bribe that public servants have to cater to big industries at the expense of their constituents. Spending time as a congressman or senator may not earn you a great deal of money while you have that job, but it will earn you significant credentials for any future job. Whether it’s a place on the board of directors of a major corporation, or merely a job as a lobbyist, you can earn a lot more money when you move from the public to the private sector.

But the revolving door isn’t only in operation for actual congressmen—it works for their staffers as well. A huge portion of staffers on Capitol Hill, perhaps even the majority, are only in it for their resume. They work in Washington, make connections with the power-players, and put those connections to the service of lobbying firms once they’re done. The staffers are the ones who actually write the legislation, and if their main goal is to be a lobbyist for a big corporation, they’re going to make sure they write that legislation in a way that benefits, to the greatest degree possible, the corporation they intend to work for. That corporation will reward them with a nice fat salary when they’re finished. It’s not bribery per se, but it’s pretty damn close.

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks gave a perfect example on the show last week. Having just returned from a protest they organized in Washington, he’d had a few conversations with Washington insiders which provided some additional insight into the situation. His source wanted to remain anonymous, so he couldn’t be very specific, but there was a provision in the Financial Reform package that was so transparently helpful to Wall Street and harmful to Main Street that not even the republicans could openly support it and it was removed from the bill. But when a new draft came along, the same provision had miraculously reappeared, and had to be removed again. The same thing happened a third time, and finally they realized that staffers at the Federal Reserve, who had been given the task of actually writing the legislation, had been slipping the provision back into the bill with each new draft.

How can we expect Washington to produce any legislation that works in our favor if the very people writing that legislation have a vested interest in making it work in the corporations’ favor? Public pressure made the financial reform bill much stronger than many of us expected it to be, but once the debate in front of the cameras was over the bill got fatally weaker. When all is said and done, there will be enough fine print and loop-holes so as to make Wall Street feel as though the whole legislative battle had been nothing but a dream and things can continue exactly as before.

The solution is painfully obvious, so obvious that it’s a wonder the public isn’t demanding it so loudly and forcefully that congress has no choice but to act: close the revolving door.

There are already rules that prohibit congressional staffers from lobbying their former colleagues for at least one year after they leave those jobs. But a mandatory year-long waiting period is a joke. Of course they’re just going to wait out the year and go to work for the lobbying firm the minute they can. For a huge portion of them, that’s their exact plan. Help to sabotage financial reform, wait a year, then go to work for a Wall Street bank. Help to sabotage health insurance reform, wait a year, then go to work for a private health insurance company. Now, help to sabotage energy legislation, wait a year, then go to work for an oil company.

Some say we should insist that they expand the waiting period to five or ten years, but we all know what happens when we start from an already-compromised position. We have to insist that they completely prohibit all public servants and their staffers from ever working as lobbyists for as long as they live. Don’t just slow down the revolving door—destroy it completely. If we keep demanding this, we might reach a compromise whereby the waiting period is extended. That will at least improve the situation a little.

But what’s wrong with demanding the life-long ban? Why shouldn’t we insist that if you want to work as a public servant, you must give up the opportunity to be a lobbyist? The government’s job is to work on behalf of the people, to protect our interests from the interests of giant organizations—be it a country or a corporation—whose interests conflict with ours. If you want to work for the government, why shouldn’t we say that you then have to give up your right to lobby the government on behalf of those organizations?

There should be no financial incentive to work for the government. The only incentive any public servant should have is to serve the public. Destroy the revolving door and all those single-minded greed-driven individuals who only use government as a springboard for their future careers will have to find another path to success. The government will once again be composed of principled people whose only desires are to do some good for their communities and their country.

If anyone who reads this knows anyone with the know-how, the skills, and the resources to organize a campaign to demand this badly needed change to our system, I hope you’ll encourage them to take up this fight. This is a cause that Americans from across the political spectrum would support, and if enough of us demand it we can’t possibly be ignored.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.