Moyers & Winship: Here's an Idea -- Let's Tax the Earnings of Politicians Turned Lobbyists
To those who would argue that the notion of a perpetual motion machine is impossible, we give you the revolving door — that ever-spinning entrance and exit between public service in government and the hugely profitable private sector. It never stops.
Yes, we’ve talked about the revolving door until we’re red or blue in the face (the door is bipartisan and spins across party lines) but this mantra bears its own perpetual repetition, a powerful reason for our distrust of the people who make and enforce our laws and regulations.
Jesse Eisinger, writing at The New York Times, reports that on January 25th, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced the appointment of Cathy Koch as his chief advisor on tax and economic policy. According to the Times, “The news release lists Ms. Koch’s admirable and formidable experience in the public sector. ‘Prior to joining Senator Reid’s office,’ the release says, ‘Koch served as tax chief at the Senate Finance Committee.’”
But, Eisinger notes, the press statement fails to mention Ms. Koch’s actual last job — as a registered lobbyist for GE. “Yes, General Electric,” he writes, “the company that paid almost no taxes in 2010. Just as the tax reform debate is heating up, Mr. Reid has put in place a person who is extraordinarily positioned to torpedo any tax reform that might draw a dollar out of GE — and, by extension, any big corporation.”
Promontory plays both sides of the field, helping financial companies hack their way through the bogs of regulation while simultaneously “helping” the OCC review said regulations — like the just abandoned Independent Foreclosure Review that essentially let the banks hire outside “experts” to decide who had been victimized by the banks’ abuse of mortgages. Result: not a dime to affected homeowners but $1.5 billion in consulting fees to Promontory and other companies like it.One other example cited in the Times article: Julie Williams, chief counsel for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — “and a major friend of the banks for years” — has been forced out of the OCC by its new boss and is joining Promontory Financial Group, “a classic Washington creature that is a private sector mirror image of a regulatory body.”
And get this: as Julie Williams exits OCC for Promontory, she will be succeeded as chief counsel by Amy Friend, former chief counsel of the Senate Banking Committee but currently a managing director at — wait for it — Promontory!
It’s a wonder all of Washington doesn’t lie prostrate in the streets, overcome by vertigo from all the spinning back and forth. But while we’re at it, remember that this whirling frenzy isn’t limited to the federal government. There are revolving doors installed at the exits and entrances of every state capitol in the country. The temptation for officeholders to seek greener pastures in lobbying can be even greater in statehouses where salaries are small and legislative sessions infrequent.
A quick search of newspapers around the country reveals how pernicious the problem is. On February 22, the Los Angeles Times reported “the abrupt resignation” of State Senator Michael J. Rubio to take a government affairs job with Chevron: “As chairman of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, Rubio was leading the charge to make California’s environmental laws more business-friendly and has introduced bills during his two years in office that affect the oil industry in his Central Valley district.”
A recent editorial in the Raleigh News & Observer points out that since the last session of the legislature there, Republican Harold Brubaker, former speaker of the North Carolina House; and Republican Richard Stevens, a ten-year veteran of the state senate, have become registered lobbyists: “Both men became experts in state spending by heading budget committees in their respective chambers… Top legislators-turned-hired-guns advising lawmakers sounds like an opening for well-funded interests to buy influence.”