After killing the ENABLERS Act, a financial reform with broad support from bipartisan advocates, former Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey took high-profile positions in two separate industries—with the private equity and investment advisor giant Apollo Global Management and the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase—that vigorously opposed the bill. This swift transition from regulating and policymaking to cashing in is the most obvious problem with the revolving door in Washington. Most importantly, this type of corruption creates bad policy by rewarding members of Congress for putting the interests of the wealthy few over the needs of the many. This has to stop—which is why CREW is proposing to fix this loophole and ensure it can never happen again.

Even in a system where former members of Congress make millions lobbying or otherwise working for industries they’ve previously regulated, Toomey’s willingness to tank a bill with wide bipartisan support and then take two positions with two industries that each loudly opposed the policy is striking. In addition to enjoying strong public support, the ENABLERS Act was backed by a vast, ideologically and politically diverse coalition of civil society groups and prominent individuals. That’s because of the simple reality that corruption and dirty money impact every industry in our country. And the bill was simple: it would have ensured that the entities that move money into and around the country are treated equally, creating a uniform, simplified system that would have helped regulators and law enforcement fight corruption.

It’s hard not to draw a line between Toomey’s two high-profile positions and his decision in his last weeks in office to reject a bill that both the cryptocurrency and private equity industries disliked. Whether or not Toomey actually made this decision with one eye towards future employment, the mere appearance of a conflict of interest can be as harmful to the public’s faith in government as an actual conflict of interest.

Congress needs to clean up its act and ensure that members are making policy in service of their constituents rather than a future employer. While senators are subject to a two-year cooling off period before they’re allowed to lobby their former colleagues (it’s one-year for members of the House), there are no restrictions on members taking jobs with companies that directly lobbied them or their committees. That needs to change. 

Members of Congress should have to wait before taking a job or other position with a corporation that lobbied them in their most powerful positions (their committees) during their final two years in office. Specifically, Congress should expand the Ethics in Government Act’s post-employment restrictions, 18 U.S.C. § 207(e), to block former members of Congress from accepting compensation in any form from any entity that lobbied them or their committees on issues related to their committee service in their last two years in office. The cooling off period would mirror the restriction on former members lobbying their colleagues, lasting for two years for senators and one year for members of the House, and extend to companies that engage in more than a minimal amount of lobbying, individually or as members of a trade association (or similar body).

This type of cooling off period is very similar to what we require of executive branch officials. In the executive branch, there is a two-year ban on an official “switching sides”—that is, taking a job representing a private party in a particular matter which was pending and under the former employee’s official responsibility during their last year in government. The law also includes a two-year cooling off period barring “very senior” officials from attempting to influence and making representational communications to certain other high-ranking officials in the entire executive branch of government. These restrictions insulate executive branch officials from attempts to buy favor through the revolving door—and help convey to the public that executive branch officials are not for sale.

Our policy would do the same thing, but for the legislature. It would make it harder for corporations or other groups that fall under the member’s committee umbrella to purchase influence through job offers and the promise of future riches. And, even more importantly, it would help restore public confidence in the integrity of members of Congress and their motives. 

Congress would need to make a few administrative changes to ensure that members and prospective employers are abiding by the restrictions. Specifically, former members would need to submit annual public certifications to their supervising ethics office that they’re in compliance with the law; and when an organization does decide to employ a former member, it would be required to certify that it did not, in the member’s final two years in office, lobby the member or the member’s committee on issues related to the member’s committee service. 

The burden that this cooling off period would have on members is vastly outweighed by the benefit it would bring to the legislative process and public trust in Congress. Members of Congress have a huge array of employment opportunities when they retire: many choose to write a book, become a television commentator, or even take a job in their party’s political leadership. Others choose to re-enter the profession they had before they were elected. Furthermore, this would only apply to a very limited number of organizations—only groups that lobbied them or their committees—that present the most egregious conflict of interest concerns. 

Members who rush into jobs with corporations that they spent their final years in office regulating create the impression that they were already serving their new bosses while they were supposed to be serving their constituents. This policy would send a message to the public that members of Congress should work for them—not for their future paychecks.


Photo by Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons license