Congressmen and Senators: “If You’re Really Good, You Can Move Up to Become a Lobbyist”

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Politico takes its lumps every now and again, here and elsewhere, but today they shall get their praise. They have a really great piece by Jeanne Cummings on Trent Lott’s resignation, which uses Lott’s dash for cash as a microcosm for the way in which lobbying has poisoned Washington.

The Lott resignation and its fallout offer a striking, if somewhat unusual, glimpse at how incestuous the relationships between lobbyists and politicians have become in recent years.

In a nutshell, the story goes like this: A U.S. senator resigns to become a lobbyist, a former lobbyist (Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour) is in charge of naming his replacement, and a lead candidate to fill the slot (Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering) finds himself in a complicated spot, since he recently put in motion his own plan to cash out from the U.S. House.

Maybe it has always been this way, but the dizzying pace of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists these days suggests not.

After all, it was not so long ago that K Street jobs were considered consolation prizes for loser lawmakers — charity cases, if you will, that leaned on the quiet generosity of grateful lobbyists after being rejected by voters or becoming too aged or controversial to remain on Capitol Hill.

Money changed all that. As the jobs became more lucrative, including million-dollar contracts, lawmakers found it easier to get over any squeamishness about pitching a client’s cause to a former colleague. It also moved up the timing of such a career change, from the closing days of a political career to its twilight to, in Lott’s case, a peak.

“It’s very clear that being able to go and lobby is seen as the upward track,” said Meredith McGehee, of the Campaign Legal Center. “In the old days, you would make money and do these things and then maybe get to run for Congress or the Senate. Today, you run for Congress or the Senate and then, if you’re really good, you can move up to become a lobbyist.”

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