It's an idea that seemed good at the time.
But Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, has found few friends in Congress when it comes to his bill that would establish a lifetime ban on lobbying by former congressmen. Only Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., is co-sponsoring the bill.
"I didn't come here to make money," Loebsack said. "And I was concerned about how the public views us. There's a reason why so few people have faith in us, and I wanted to try and correct that. I'm not here to cash in."
The problem: Few others in Congress agree. Very few.
Loebsack faces resistance even among his seven-member Iowa congressional delegation. Democrat Leonard Boswell supports the measure and Bruce Braley, another Democrat, agrees with the general concept, though he doesn't feel Loebsack's measure goes far enough.
Meanwhile, Steve King (R), Tom Latham (R) and Sens. Tom Harkin (D) and Charles Grassley (R) all disagree with it.
Most point out the First Amendment's constitutional right to petition government.
"My afternoons are filled with people from Iowa coming into my office lobbying," said Latham, R-Iowa. "They're not official lobbyists, but they're pushing for their causes. It's their right to petition their government, and I don't think you should take that away from anybody."
Since 1998, there have been 43 senators and 251 representatives who have been lobbyists, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group in Washington that tracks congressional ethics.
The list includes such distinguished former senators as Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Majority Leader and 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, 2008 GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, former Georgia Governor Zell Miller, and U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.
Among the former representatives who have lobbied in the past: Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former House Speaker Tom Foley, and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
Currently, among the most recent former congressmen, a third of the members of the 2009-10 Congress have become lobbyists, according to CRP statistics.
However, there are so many lobbyists in Washington that former congressmen make up only a fraction of the overall total. Out of 12,654 lobbyists, fewer than 200 are former members of Congress, or less than one percent.
"If it were to pass, it would be a big change in how things work in Washington, so it's pretty unusual for a member of Congress to suggest this," said Viveca Novak, CRP's editorial director. "But it would have to pass, and right now there's only two people on the bill."
Former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who is now a prominent lobbyist in Washington, was in the Senate on Wednesday. He called lobbying "a natural transition" and said Loebsack's idea is "probably unconstitutional."
"When I left, what was I going to do, be a brain surgeon? An astronaut? No. I was involved all my life in legislation, and talking to people about legislation, and it's a natural transition to still be involved in that and try to help people address their ideas and thoughts to Congress and help explain to them how Congress works," Breaux said.
He added, "It's a natural transition, and everything's public and it's a decent and honorable profession… Banning people from the profession is not the answer. Just making sure that the rules are adequate and make sure everything's above board is enough."
John Dunbar, a managing editor for the Center for Public Integrity, said Loebsack's idea is "admirable but probably unconstitutional."
"I'm not sure a lifetime ban would hold up in the courts," Dunbar said. "It's really hard for Congress to reform itself. It's really difficult to legislate ethics. It's almost like something ghastly has to happen first. At the end of the day, the best way to punish a congressman who's unethical is to just vote them out."
by RTT Staff Writer
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