February 6th, 2012

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Tennessean: Legislators move from lobbied to lobbyists

Monday, February 6th, 2012

When members of Congress hear from groups hoping to get a law passed or a regulation changed, they often look across the table at men and women they once worked with.


More than 300 former House members or senators, including presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, have worked as lobbyists or in very similar roles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Their ranks have included at least a dozen people who once represented Tennessee.

Critics say the phenomenon, while protected by the First Amendment guarantee of the right to petition the government, raises questions about how public policy is created in Washington, and what elected officials might be angling for while still in office. Critics worry about a “revolving door” between congressional offices — including staff members — and lobbying roles.

“It’s obviously the ultimate form of being wired,” said Viveca Novak, a spokeswoman for the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics and its impact on elections and policy. “The clients who can pay the most are going to get the most extreme form of chumminess.”

Lobbying has been in the spotlight during the Republican presidential primaries. Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, has been accused by rival Mitt Romney of lobbying for Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored mortgage guarantor that has drawn criticism for its role in the nation’s housing crisis. Romney called the former congressman’s actions “influence-peddling.”

Gingrich, a former history professor whose consulting firm was paid $1.6 million by Freddie Mac for advice that their contract described as “in the areas of strategic planning and public policy,” has said he served his client as a “historian” and never registered as a lobbyist.

Sometimes the lines are more clearly drawn. The Tennessean was able to identify 22 living former members of Congress from Tennessee. Of those, at least 10 have worked as lobbyists, and two who left Congress last year — Democrats Bart Gordon and John Tanner — are now in a position to do so in their jobs at Washington law and lobbying firms.

When Tanner joined Prime Policy Group as vice chairman last February, the firm’s CEO, Scott Pastrick, said in a news release: “John Tanner brings a deep understanding of the legislative process, the policy and political nuances that shape corporate policy on Capitol Hill. He is a consensus builder who is respected across the political aisle in Congress and throughout foreign capitals.”

Similarly, the administrative partner of K&L Gates LLP’s Washington office, David T. Case, said of hiring Gordon as a partner last March: “Adding Chairman Gordon to an already accomplished public policy and law team — which also includes former Congressman Jim Walsh and former Senator Slade Gorton among its roster — will allow us to provide our clients with unparalleled policy and political advice and assistance.”

Tanner and Gordon did not return phone calls seeking comment last week.

Along with the 12 former members from Tennessee who have clearly lobbied Congress or started working for lobbying firms, The Center for Responsive Politics also lists former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. among the 370 former congressmen or senators nationally who have worked both sides of the “revolving door.” But the House and Senate have no records of Ford registering as a lobbyist, and Ford has said that wasn’t his role at investment bank Merrill Lynch, where he was a vice chairman and senior policy adviser before moving to Morgan Stanley last year.

No apologies

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, who served four terms from Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District before losing a re-election bid in 2010, said he hasn’t done any lobbying. But he might at some point.

“I think that’s OK,” Davis said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of demand for people who have built relationships in Congress, not that they’re expected to be purchased or bought. Congress is a huge monster of an entity. I never realized how large it was until I was elected. I never realized how the machinery moves and works.”

Another former congressman, Bob Clement, represented Nashville and the rest of the 5th Congressional District from 1988 to 2003. After losing a campaign to become Nashville’s mayor in 2007, he formed Bob Clement and Associates, using his experience from 15 years on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to work for clients in the rail industry.

Clement said he makes no apologies for his line of work.

“You make contacts,” he said while riding a train from Washington to New York on Friday. “And over the years I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of members, Democrat and Republican alike, not just in Tennessee but all over the country.

“I consider it an honorable profession. I’m fighting for a cause when it comes to transportation and rebuilding America.”