The whirling revolving door

What do you call a long-time congressional staff member? A chump.

Lawrence Lessig , the Harvard law professor who has been on a crusade against the corrupting influence of money in politics, says that is increasingly how insiders view those who stay on for long stints on Capitol Hill rather than cash in on their connections and behind-the-scenes knowledge to join the ranks of high-paid K Street lobbyists.

“The chumps are the people who don’t cash out in time,” he told CommonWealth last year. “And the smart people are people who’ve figured out-well, I’ve been here long enough, I’ve been on this committee, I can now cash out and have a successful career as an influence peddler.”

Yesterday’s front-page of the New York Timestrained its sights on the influence peddlers, and found that the getting for them was awfully good. Maybe not so much so for the workings of representative democracy.

The revolving door is now spinning so furiously that nearly half of all registered lobbyists in Washington are former government employees, a dramatic increase from 18 percent in 1998, according to a recent set of reports the Times cites from the Sunlight Foundation. These “revolving-door lobbyists,” most of them from Capitol Hill, accounted for almost all of the near doubling of lobbying revenue from $703 million in 1998 to $1.3 billion in 2012. What’s more, the Times says many of the new members of the tassel-loafered crowd have barrelled full-speed through huge loopholes in new ethics rules adopted in 2007.

The result is sea of lobbyists in Washington now cozying up to their former bosses or staff colleagues on behalf of their new corporate clients, sometimes while maintaining a role on the congressional member’s campaign operation. The new rules were supposed to put in place at least a one-year “cooling off” period designed to limit lobbying by former senior Capitol Hill staffers. But the version of the rules adopted by the House was particularly loophole ridden, reports the Times. In some cases, staff members waved off pay raises while on the public payroll to stay under the limit at which the one-year rule kicked in. (And no one went to the poorhouse doing so; last year the annual salary cap staffers had to stay under was $130,500.)

In one example, the chief of staff to a Republican Arizona congressman who was heavily involved in efforts to revamp the government’s role in mortgage lending left to work as a lobbyist for a private mortgage insurance company. He started his lucrative new lobbying work the day after he left Capitol Hill, and he was free to immediately contact congressional staff members he had just supervised because his last staff salary was $128,000.

In other cases, former staff members skirted the intent of the new rules due to payroll accounting gimmicks. In one case, a top aide to US Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, left to lobby for JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg L.P.  Because he was paid out of a House Democratic leadership account, he was only prohibited from contacting top Democratic leaders for one year, not other members of the House Financial Services Committee, where he had served as a top staff member during the 2008 financial crisis.

While the Times focused on former congressional staffers, who now often see their government work as a stepping stone to lobbying riches, members of Congress themselves have increasingly joined the ranks of the Washington influence peddlers. In the 1970s, says Lessig, just 3 percent of outgoing members of Congress went into lobbying. In recent years, that has soared to more than half of all departing senators and more than 40 percent of retiring House members.

A similar pattern plays out locally on Beacon Hill. As CommonWealth’s Bruce Mohl reported last week, former state senator Steven Panagiotakis, who gave up his seat and chairmanship of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee in 2010, rocketed last year to the fourth highest paid Beacon Hill lobbyist, pulling in $324,500. He joined with lots of familiar Beacon Hill faces on the list of top 20 lobbying earners, including former Senate president Robert Travaglini, who edged him out for third place on the gravy train.

–MICHAEL JONAS  

BEACON HILL

Union representatives on the MBTA retirement board are resisting the call by representatives appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to make public information on investments by the board, which is regarded as a private trust even though millions of dollars of public money flow into it.

The MetroWest Daily News underlines its support for driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

A Herald editorial takes House lawmakers of both parties to task for stuffing a transportation bond bill full of local earmarks.

The Herald praises John McDonough, one of the architects of the state’s universal health care law, for publicly ripping the Patrick administration’s handling of the state health care connector.

The Wall Street Journal spotlights the state’s difficulties in moving homeless families out of motels.

CASINOS

The deadline for would-be casino developers to strike deals with surrounding municipalities looms.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Conservative firebrand Phyllis Schlafly, who made her bones opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, says in a National Review oped that the influx of illegal immigrants, most of whom she says are liberal, is the death knell for the conservative movement.

Lawrence Lessig chronicles his walk across New Hampshire for campaign finance reform for the Atlantic.

ELECTIONS

Former state rep Barbara L’Italien, who was defeated in her last attempt to reclaim her seat, jumps into the race for the state Senate seat of Barry Finegold, who is running for treasurer, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

In a potential sign of his weakness, US Rep. John Tierney lagged behind both his Democratic primary challenger, Seth Moulton, and his Republican challenger, Richard Tisei, in fundraising for the last three months of 2013.

Rep. George N. Peterson Jr. , the Republican assistant minority leader in the House, is retiring at the end of this term, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

Howard Dean, the one-time presidential candidate, Vermont governor, and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is backing state Treasurer Steve Grossman for governor of Massachusetts, the Associated Press reports.

Kimberly Atkins sees the Democratic consolidation behind Hillary Clinton as proof that Democrats have swiped the Republican playbook, while the GOP has become the undisciplined, self-savaging circus that Clinton’s party once was. The Republican split looks to be widening, too: Outside groups that fund challenges against moderates far outraised PACs with ties to the party’s establishment in 2013.

Slate wonders whether the Republican Governors Association can keep up its fundraising tear under its embattled new chair, Gov. Chris Christie.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Patriot Ledger is running a three-part series on the state’s housing crisis, with the main focus on a rental market beset byshrinking inventory and spiking rents that are causing one in four tenants to spend half their income on monthly rent.

The Cape Cod Times argues that the push to do away with the Cape Cod Commission has more to do with officials putting the kibosh on a proposed Lowes in Dennis than anything else.

Consumer-oriented businesses come to grips with the shrinking middle class.

EDUCATION

A Middleboro man was found guilty of embezzling nearly $30,000 from an elementary school PTA where he was an officer and was ordered to perform community service in lieu of restitution as well as stay away from all school activities except those he must attend as a parent.

HEALTH CARE

The abortion rate in the US falls to its lowest rate since the procedure was legalized in 1973, NPR reports.

TRANSPORTATION

Tucked inside the $12 billion transportation bond bill is $500,000 to light up the Braga Bridge in Fall River with colored bulbs to try to make it the South Coast version of the landmark Zakim Bridge.

RELIGION

Trinity Church in Copley Square is plunking down $3.6 million for a Beacon Hill residence for the leader of its flock.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A new report says recent improvements to beachesin the metro Boston area are imperiled by staff cuts to the agency that oversees them, the Item reports.

Westport selectmen are trying figure out how to provide handicapped access to the town’s two beaches, which are inaccessible to disabled people.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The brother-in-law of US Rep. John Tierney loses an appeal of his racketeering and gambling conviction, the Gloucester Times reports.

Clergy and residents renew the call to tackle gang violence in Boston.

The number of sexual assaults at area college campuses is up sharply, but officials and experts say it may reflect greater willingness to report the incidents as much as any actual rise in incidents.

Keller@Large , long an advocate for the death penalty, joins the growing chorus of those who think life in prison for alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev might be a more fitting punishment.

Florida now has its own drug lab chemist scandal.

ARTS

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is found dead of an apparent drug overdose in New York City, the New York Times reports.

The makeover of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown is almost complete.