While the new Congress is sworn in today, former Utah Senator Bob Bennett is not wasting a moment as he intends to register to be a federal lobbyist the first instant he is legally allowed.
Today marks two years to the day since Bennett left office, the legally prescribed "cooling-off" period members of Congress must observe before cashing in their legislative friendships to claim political pork for well-heeled interests.
What's more, Bennett is coming out swinging. As his hometown Salt Lake Tribune reported, "The former senator calls the two-year ban a 'really bad idea' and part of the 'let’s-punish-politicians-for-being-politicians attitude.'"
But as this country has learned, Bennett's thought that a cooling-off period is a "really bad idea" is, itself, a really bad idea.
Let's take this week for example. Congress, in a style that has become habit of late, again dashed to beat a damaging deadline, and produced a complicated compromise bill rushed through at the last moment. Largely unnoticed in the process, however, were a series of corporate giveaways that larded up the bill they sent to the president's desk.
Among these corporate welfare handouts were $43 million in tax breaks for racetrack owners, $320 million in breaks for the film industry, and extended tax credits for the coal industry.
Even Goldman Sachs got a handout to build a new office tower in Manhattan.
Behind each of these proposals were corporate and industry lobbyists pumping millions of dollars into the effort to sneak in these sweetheart provisions under the noses of the American people. The Sunlight Foundation has a further breakdown connecting the dots.
Close ties to members of Congress can result in quite favorable outcomes for the corporate interests paying for influence. Just yesterday, the Washington Post reported that 56 relatives of congressmen and women have been contracted since 2007 to lobby their family members. "More than 500 firms have spent more than $400 million on lobbying teams that include the relatives of members, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure forms," the article said.
As these figures suggest, amounts spent on lobbying are piddling compared to the profits of corporations, which stand to see huge returns on their modest lobbying investments. But try to find a group leveraging the will of average Americans that's able to spend even close to that amount -- not many will turn up.
Far from needing to lift reasonable restrictions on undue influence, we must strive to strengthen protections for average Americans in the halls of Congress. Influence should not be for sale, and the culture of influence trading from K St. to the Capitol will be a major focus as we ramp up our organizing in the new year.