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PROTECT THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE

a speech in Congress by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), on

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Full Text Below, adapted from the Congressional Record.

Mr. President, I wish to speak on amendment No. 31, which I have offered with Senator Obama, and which, unless agreement is reached otherwise, will be voted on when we return to the bill in an attempt to finish it. We have offered this amendment to try to give some teeth to the so-called revolving door statute.

The shortcomings of the revolving door law have been known for some time. This bill already corrects two of them, and I strongly support those provisions.

First, it increases the so-called cooling off period--that is, the period during which restrictions on the activities of former Members of Congress apply--from 1 year to 2 years.

Second, it expands the prohibition that applies to senior staff members who become lobbyists. Rather than having to refrain from lobbying the former employing Senator or committee, staffers turned lobbyists may not lobby the entire Senate during this cooling-off period.

These are important changes, but there is an additional reform that I believe we must adopt if the revolving door statute is to be a serious impediment to improper influence peddling.

My amendment would prohibit former Senators not only from personally lobbying their former colleagues during the 2-year cooling-off period, but also from engaging in lobbying activities during that period.

Let me talk for a minute about revolving door restrictions generally, and then I will discuss the need for this particular amendment. The revolving door is a problem for two basic reasons. First, because of the revolving door, some interests have better access to the legislative process than others. Former Members and staff, or former executive branch employees, know how to work the system and get results for their clients. Those who have the money to hire them have a leg up.

The public perceives this as an unfair process, and I agree. Decisions in Congress on legislation, or in regulatory agencies on regulations or enforcement, or in the Defense Department on huge Government contracts, should be made, to the extent possible, on the merits, not based on who has the best connected lobbyist.

The second problem of the revolving door is it creates the perception--perception--that public officials are cashing in on their public service, trading on their connections and their knowledge for personal profit. When you see former Members or staff becoming lobbyists and making three or four or five times what they made in Government service to work on the same issues they worked on here, that raises questions for a lot of people.

Both sides of this coin combine to further the cynicism about how policy is made in this country and who is making it. That, ultimately, is the biggest problem here. The public loses confidence in elected officials and public servants.

One of the worst things we can do here is say we are addressing a problem, knowing we are not getting at the core of the problem. That is what has happened with the revolving door. We have a so-called cooling-off period, which basically has become a ``warming-up period.'' Former Members leave office and they almost immediately join these lobbying firms. Both they and their employers know they cannot lobby Congress for a year, but it does not matter. They can do everything short of picking up the phone or coming to the meeting. They can strategize behind the scenes. They can give advice on who to contact, what arguments to use, what buttons to push. They can even direct others to make the contacts, and say they are doing so at the suggestion of the ex-Senator in question, who is supposedly in the middle of this 2-year cooling-off period.

Making it a 2-year warming-up period does not do enough. We have to change what is allowed during that period. Only then will the public believe we have addressed the revolving door problem.

The Lobbying Disclosure Act requires lobbying firms and organizations that lobby to report on how much they spend not on lobbying contacts but on lobbying activities. ``Lobbying activities'' is a defined term, covering ``lobbying contacts and efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation and planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.'' This term I just mentioned and defined has been in use for over a decade without controversy.

So the Feingold-Obama amendment simply prohibits former Members of Congress from engaging in lobbying activities for the 2 years following their congressional service. If the money spent on what the former Member is doing would have to be reported under the LDA, then the former Member cannot do it. Adopting this amendment will show the public we are serious about addressing the revolving door problem. It will make a real difference, which I fear simply lengthening the cooling-off period will not.

I have heard some complain that by doing this we are going after our former colleagues' ability to make a living and support their families. I strongly disagree with that.

According to a study done by Public Citizen in 2005, it is only in the last decade or so that lobbying has become the profession of choice for former Members of Congress. In any event, we are not talking about a lifetime ban, just a real cooling-off period for 2 years. Members of Congress are highly talented, highly employable people. Surely, their experience and expertise is of interest to potential employers for something other than trying to influence legislation right after they leave the House or the Senate.

There are many other kinds of work, including some that may be just as fulfilling, though perhaps not as rewarding financially, as representing private interests before their former colleagues. This is not a question of punishing those who serve in Congress. It is a question of Members of Congress recognizing that we are here as public servants, and when that service ends, we should not be allowed to turn around and transform it into a huge personal financial benefit.

If after sitting out an entire Congress--2 full years--a former Member wishes to come to Washington and lobby, he or she can do that. But some of the issues will have changed, and so will the membership of the Congress. The former Member will not have quite the same advantages and connections after a true 2-year cooling-off period. So even if these Members do become lobbyists at that point, I think we will be able to tell our constituents with a straight face that we have addressed the revolving door problem in a meaningful way.

Let me emphasize one thing about this amendment. It does not apply to former staff. The reason is simple. We let, under this, former staffers leave this building and become lobbyists tomorrow. They are limited in what offices they can contact, but they are allowed to lobby. So preventing them from engaging in lobbying activities only with respect to certain offices would not make sense. But for former Members, who are prohibited from contacting anyone in the Congress, this additional prohibition actually makes a lot of sense and will have a real impact.

The American people are looking for real results in this legislation. We cannot claim to be giving them that with respect to the revolving door without this amendment. So I urge my colleagues to vote for the Feingold-Obama amendment.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.