Lobbying World

The top lobbyists through the revolving door

Last week, The Hill announced this year’s “Top Lobbyists” or what was called “the influencers”: those “professional agitators who shape the policy decisions made in the nation’s capital.”

The lists were broken up into four categories: Associations, Corporate, Hired Guns and Grassroots. These lists have some of the fun of college football rankings, just with much less coverage on ESPN. While the lists aren’t rank ordered, they still provide insights into how the business of influence works in Washington.

{mosads}First, though the list is of “Top Lobbyists,” the authors noted that only a portion of the list actually registers to lobby. Some exert their clout without ever dipping into those regulated activities, and thus need not comply with the lobbying reporting requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA).

Second, all the big acronyms are on the Association list, from the ACCCE (American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity) to the PCIAA (Property Casualty Insurers Association of America). The wholesalers, the farmers, the military officers and the bankers all have their representatives on the list.

Third, so many familiar names are on the lists, many who held office just a couple of years ago. Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is on the list representing the Motion Picture Association of America, former Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) is on the list representing the Credit Union National Association, and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) is on the list representing the Financial Services Roundtable. The Hired Guns list is just as chock-full of bold-faced names.

In fact, and while hardly surprising, many of these top lobbyists have travelled through the revolving door between public service and lobbying, but that varies greatly by which list you look at. To get an estimate of this, I used data from the Center for Responsive Politics Revolving Door database. What I found is that very few of those on the Grassroots list — those advocating on the environment, gun rights and unions — have spent any time at all in the public sector, including work on Capitol Hill, the White House or a federal agency. Less than a third (29 percent) on that list show up in the Revolving Door database and only one of the seven union representatives on the Grassroots list. In comparison, nearly all on the Hired Gun list (93 percent) are in the database, compared to around two-thirds of top Association lobbyists (60 percent) and Corporate lobbyists (62 percent). These findings comport with what Tim LaPira and Herschel Thomas found in research published by Interest Groups & Advocacy: The revolving door is not limited to just former elected officials; former staffers travel through the same door into lucrative careers in lobbying.

Fourth, while there are differences in the percentages, the tenure in the public sector is somewhat uniform across all three of the four lists. If you total up the number of years of service, the average is nine years for those on the Grassroots, Association and Hired Guns lists, and somewhat less, seven years, for the Corporate list.

These statistics are probably not surprising to those in Washington, but they reinforce the cozy nature of how policy is made. It is likely this same coziness causes those far from D.C. to recoil in horror at the state of the democracy. The ease with which people can move back and forth between the public and private sector, and trade on contacts made working for the people, continues to impress many as the reason why many policy problems remain unaddressed and why finding a voice in Washington remains difficult.

Brown is an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He is the author of Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition (Routledge, 2012).

Tags Chris Dodd Jim Nussle LDA Lobbying Lobbying Disclosure Act Lobbying in the United States Revolving door Tim Pawlenty
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