Business & Lobbying

2020 Democrats vow to get tough on lobbyists

Greg Nash

2020 Democratic hopefuls are taking aim at the lobbying world, vowing to enact a number of sweeping reform proposals if they win election.

Contenders from both parties have long run as outsiders to K Street, with President Trump famously vowing on the campaign trail to “drain the swamp.”

But the spotlight on K Street has intensified this cycle, with the left urging candidates to reject corporate money and Democratic lawmakers raising concerns about the “revolving door” that sees lobbyists land top administration posts.{mosads}

Two candidates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), have called for a strict lifetime ban on lawmakers lobbying. And those in the House are touting tough restrictions on lobbyists they helped pass this year as part of a sweeping ethics bill.

Some candidates have yet to publicly highlight their views on the issue, but here’s how many prominent 2020 Democratic contenders are vowing to rein in Washington lobbying.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Warren has taken the toughest stance against the revolving door and has said it will be her number one priority as president, a spokesperson for the campaign told The Hill.

In Congress, Warren has already proposed legislation which would place a lifetime ban on former lawmakers lobbying the president, vice president, Cabinet members, and members of Congress.

Currently, senators are banned from lobbying Congress for two years after leaving office, while House members are banned from lobbying lawmakers for one year.

Another bill Warren introduced in May would impose a four-year ban on defense contractors hiring senior Pentagon officials or Defense Department employees who managed their contracts. The measure would also ban senior Pentagon officials from owning any stock in a major defense contractor, among other restrictions. 

“Anti-corruption. The problem we have in Washington right now is that money is influencing basically every decision that goes on,” Warren told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in February, when asked what her first big domestic legislation would be as president.

“So, I’ve put together — it’s a big bill because it’s a big problem. But it has the features we need to just beat back some of the influence of money. End lobbying as we know it.”


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sanders wants to increase enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Think Progress has reported, but it is unclear what change he would propose.

There has been a bipartisan push to crack down on possible violations under the law and close loopholes that say allow lobbyists to work for foreign groups without disclosing those connections.

Overall, Sanders has been a vocal critic of the former lobbyists in the Trump administration.

“We must end the revolving door from the oil and gas industry to the very agencies that are supposed to be regulating them and are tasked with protecting the environment,” he tweeted in September after a former adviser to ex-Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke joined an oil and gas company.

In May, Sanders hit EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist, in a Facebook post.

“How sick is Trump’s revolving door?” he asked.


Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

Harris has also talked up lobbying reform and is a cosponsor on the Senate’s companion bill to H.R. 1, House Democrats’ sweeping ethics and lobbying reform bill.

The changes include tougher rules for lobbyists, including a measure that would force groups that engage in some political activities to disclose all donors who gave over $10,000. The bill would also overhaul how businesses can interact with campaigns, expand the definition of a coordinated communication, as defined by the Federal Election Commission, and tighten the rules on when lobbyists for foreign interests must register under FARA.

“Congress has an opportunity to pass H.R. 1, legislation to preserve our democracy. Voting rights are on the line. Our elections are on the line. Our country is on the line. This is a matter of fighting #ForThePeople and we need to commit to it,” Harris tweeted in March.

The bill has no change of passing Congress with Republicans in control of the Senate. And if Harris sought to push those reforms as president, she could expect fierce pushback from K Street. Lobbyists have painted the reforms in H.R. 1 as an overreach. Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Hill in March that parts of the bill were a “blatant unconstitutional attempt to regulate our free speech.”


Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

Bennet has also long called for a lifetime ban on members of Congress becoming lobbyists.

He would also ban senior congressional staff and cabinet officials from working as lobbyists for six years on issues they handled, and also bar former lawmakers and staff from ever representing foreign governments or foreign political parties.

Currently, staffers have a one-year cooling off period from lobbying at least their office, which can expand based on leadership and committee assignments.

Bennet would also close loopholes that allow individuals to operate as lobbyists without registering. 

Bennet in June tweeted a thread touting his work on these reforms since joining the Senate in 2009. Last year, he teamed up with Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) to introduce the Curtailing Lobbyists and Empowering Americans for a New (CLEAN) Politics Act to strengthen the lobbying registration process. Much of the bill was rolled into H.R. 1.


Vice President Joe Biden

One prominent candidate, front-runner Joe Biden, has not detailed any policies on lobbying. 

Navigating the issue could be challenging for Biden. The former vice president has come under scrutiny from progressive groups over his strong support from lobbyists and close ties to many in the influence world, developed over his long tenure in Washington.

A fundraiser for Biden in June included two lawmakers-turned-lobbyists, former Sens. John Breaux (D-La.), now at Squire Patton Boggs, and Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is at Arnold & Porter. Biden worked with both when he was in the Senate.

His campaign has said is not taking money from lobbyists and corporate PACs, but that has failed to satisfy critics.

Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.


South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg supports reforming rules on lawmakers jumping to lobbying and he supports the changes in H.R. 1.

Buttigieg also backs a ban on “golden parachutes,” substantial benefits given to business executives as compensation when they leave, for those who accept political appointments.

 “The White House and Federal agencies are not prizes to be won by paid special interests and lobbyists. Yet, that’s the atmosphere created by the current Administration. The Mayor believes that to solve the challenges of this century, we need the best ideas from a diverse set of our brightest and most talented people — not just those who have traditionally enjoyed access, or can buy it,” a Buttigieg spokesperson told The Hill.

The campaign says a Buttigieg administration would also fully support the Office of Government Ethics to ramp up enforcement.


Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)

Beto would also impose a lifetime lobbying ban on members of Congress and also put restrictions on former staffers.

“As president, Beto would ban federal lobbying by anyone who was in a federal elected office and prohibit senior staff from federal lobbying for a period equal to the time they were in such a role or 6 years – whichever is greater,” a spokesperson told The Hill.


Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.)

Delaney supports a five-year lobbying ban for former lawmakers, a spokesperson told The Hill.


Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

Booker believes in closing the “revolving door” in Washington by restricting for-profit corporate lobbyists from working in the White House, a Booker spokesperson said. He would also ban golden parachute payouts for appointees from the private sector.


Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)

Gabbard jumped on board when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted about teaming up on a bill to ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists.

.@AOC @tedcruz The revolving door between politicians and lobbyists needs to close. I’ve been working on comprehensive legislation to do this.  Until then, I’m all in on a clean bill focused on Members of Congress. Let’s make it happen,” she wrote.


Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.)

Moulton believes that banning or restricting lobbyists isn’t going to fix the problem of the revolving door, a spokesperson for his campaign said.

Instead, Moulton wants to address the problem by getting at the root of money in politics and low staff pay. Passing legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which struck down limits on political ad spending by companies, unions and other groups, and giving congressional staff a pay raise will do more to stem the outsized influence of lobbyists, according to a campaign spokesperson.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) 

Klobuchar is a backer of the Senate version of H.R. 1.


Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)

Ryan along with almost all of his House Democratic colleagues voted for H.R. 1.

“Eliminating barriers to the right to vote, guaranteeing clean and fair elections, taking money out of politics, and ending government corruption are critical to any functioning democracy,” he said in a statement at the time.


Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) 

Swalwell has voted for H.R. 1.


Marianne Williamson

Williamson thinks the biggest problem with our government right now is the overwhelming influence of corporate money, a spokesperson for the candidate said.

She supports a 5-year ban on lawmakers becoming lobbyists and a ban on executives becoming leaders in government agencies that oversee their industries, and vice versa. She also supports the public financing of elections to reduce the influence of big donors on candidates.


Andrew Yang

In a policy statement on his website, Yang’s campaign has proposed banning “any member of the federal government (including members of Congress), after leaving their position, from receiving anything of value in exchange for advocating for a position to members of the federal government.”

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Amy Klobuchar Andrew Wheeler Andrew Yang Bernie Sanders Bill de Blasio Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Eric Swalwell Jay Inslee Joaquin Castro Joe Biden John Delaney John Hickenlooper John Sarbanes Kirsten Gillibrand Marianne Williamson Michael Bennet Mitch McConnell Pete Buttigieg Ryan Zinke Seth Moulton Ted Cruz Tim Ryan Tulsi Gabbard
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