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Revolving Door in Politics

Simple definition from Wikipedia:

Governments hire industry professionals for their private sector experience, their influence within corporations that the government is attempting to regulate or do business with, and in order to gain political support (donations and endorsements) from private firms.

Industry, in turn, hires people out of government positions to gain personal access to government officials, seek favorable legislation/regulation and government contracts in exchange for high-paying employment offers, and get inside information on what is going on in government.

The lobbying industry is especially affected by the revolving door concept, as the main asset for a lobbyist is contacts with and influence on government officials. This industrial climate is attractive for ex-government officials. It can also mean substantial monetary rewards for the lobbying firms and government projects and contracts in the hundreds of millions for those they represent.

From Interest Groups and Lobbying:

As noted above, 80 percent of lobbyists came into lobbying from government jobs. Lobbyists told Heinz and his colleagues that government service helped launch their lobbying careers. Of the lobbyists interviewed, 70 percent said it gave them familiarity with issues, 80 percent said it taught them how the lawmaking process works, 59 percent said it gave them important contacts in Congress, 48 percent said it gave them contacts in the administration, and 47 percent said it helped them gain contacts with other lobbyists (Heinz et al. 1993, 115).

This is what is colloquially called the revolving door. Many ex-Hill people end up at well-known lobbying firms such as the Podesta Group (which has the most ex-Hill staff at eighteen, according to Washington Representatives 2010, vii) and major interest groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce.

Why? Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group, told the Washington Post that “people who are experienced in Washington tend to be better at doing this kind of work than people who have never worked in the government before.” Often the reason is strategic. The Motion Picture Association of America hired former senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) to be its new president because for years Dodd had chaired the Senate committee that controlled many of the policies important to the group (Romm 2011). Conflicts of interest? Maybe. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found in 2011 that seven ex-congressmen were now lobbying for interests these legislators had supported with government appropriations while in Congress (Farnam 2012b).

The hiring of ex-legislators and legislative staffers as lobbyists (and the issue of who gets hired) has become a political issue. Interest groups and lobbying firms try to staff up with lobbyists of the same ideological persuasion as the party controlling Congress. For example, Republican staff members were in high demand in 1994 after their party gained control of the House and Senate (Stone 1996). Party leaders even threatened to shut several interest groups out of Congress if they did not hire Republican staff as lobbyists.

In the past, well-connected lobbyists … could easily work with both parties, bringing competing groups of interests together to hammer out deals and resolve conflicts (Ignatius 2000). Today, though, lobbyists are pressured by the parties to take sides, with their access threatened (which kills a lobbyist’s career) if they do not.

Perhaps even more interesting is that 605 congressional staffers in 2011 used to be lobbyists. When Republicans took over the House of Representatives that year, many new legislators recruited their senior staff from among the ranks of major lobbying firms and business associations (Farnam 2011). The door fully revolves. Government workers leave to make money as lobbyists, and some later return to work on the inside, possibly still biased toward the interest groups that recently employed them, and they could return to lobbying again in a couple of years for a lot more money.