Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lobbyist Food Chain

The Monkey Cage's Lee Drutman discusses a seldom considered aspect of the Rep-to-Lobbyist cycle in American politics.

In my interviews with lobbyists, I noticed a pretty standard career path. Most started out in government. But at some point they realized they need to make more money – and also work a little less, so they could spend time with their kids. One lobbyist put it this way:
The Hill’s very interesting place to work. A lot folks do that in 20s and 30s. But by the time they get into their 40s, they decide it’s time to get a real job.
I think the implications of this are actually potentially somewhat profound.

It’s not just that these lobbyists have access. It also means there is a constant transfer of experience and expertise and rolodexes and process know-how from the public sector to the private sector.

These people are then replaced by somebody less senior, with less experience (possibly their former subordinate). This hasn’t been well-studied, but it ought to be. It is, I would venture, a very important source of lobbyist influence.
It's easy to demonize lobbyists, and most times politically expedient to do so. But the lobbyist is a part of our political machine, and I doubt one that will fade anytime soon. If ever.

I can also sympathize, somewhat, in the desire to "move on" from representation to an "actual job" as one ages.

But the idea of older, experienced representatives "retiring" into the lobbyist world, replaced by younger inexperienced representatives who may also be in the pocket of their "senior" who helped them along eludes to a cycle of indentured servitude that begs three questions. How do we balance representation, public opinion, and lobbyist agendas? At what point does this cycle reach critical mass, in which the entire process, from election to representation to retirement happens at the behest of lobby groups with undue influence? And what, if anything, can be done to slow or stop the cycle?

Maybe it's not the end of the world, and representation is simply "evolving." But those are still questions worth exploring.

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