Revolving door spins for Connecticut delegation

Revolving door

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Revolving door

Washington – Washington’s “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and K Street lobbying is spinning like a top when it comes to the Connecticut delegation.

Many Connecticut lawmakers who have retired recently have become lobbyists. And an analysis by The Connecticut Mirror of information provided by the watchdog site LegiStorm shows that dozens of staffers for Connecticut lawmakers have also swung through the revolving door, the term used for an ingrained, and growing, Washington phenomenon when lawmakers and their staff leave Capitol Hill for more lucrative lobbying jobs.

Sometimes a lobbyist is hired by a congressional office, then leaves to lobby again.

That’s what happened to Francis Creighton, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy’s former chief of staff.

Before taking a job in Murphy’s office in 2009, when the senator was a member of the House of Representatives, Creighton was the chief lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association. Before that, he worked for Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., former Connecticut Rep. Sam Gejdenson, and he had other Capitol Hill jobs.

Last month, Creighton returned to lobbying, hired as the top lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, an organization that bills itself as “the leading advocacy organization for America’s financial services industry.”

Creighton did not respond to a request for an interview.

But another former Capitol Hill aide who left a job with a Connecticut lawmaker said working in the private sector is tempting because it often pays better and is usually less stressful. He spoke on condition of anonymity in deference to his current employer.

“The first thing I did [after leaving Capitol Hill] is buy Washington Nationals season tickets,” he said. “It was the first time I had the money and time to do that.”

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said, “Being a lawmaker or congressional staffer is a way station to getting a more high-paying job.”

Former Sen. Chris Dodd

Mirror file photo

Former Sen. Chris Dodd

Former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd is perhaps the best example of this. When he left the Senate in 2011 to become the chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, his annual salary jumped from about $150,000 a year to more than $2 million. Last year, Dodd’s salary climbed to more than $3 million.

Like Dodd, former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman once said he’d never become  a lobbyist.

“I’m not going to lobby. For sure,” Lieberman told New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich just weeks before opening a lobbying office in Washington for New York law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman earlier this year.

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman

Miror file photo

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman

Lieberman has registered as a lobbyist for a Libyan businessman. He also has the distinction of having 39 former staffers leave his office for lobbying jobs, more than any but four other former lawmakers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The late Democratic senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts topped the list at 61.

“Although the influence powerhouses that line Washington’s K Street are just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol building, the most direct path between the two doesn’t necessarily involve public transportation,” the center says. “Instead, it’s through a door — a revolving door that shuffles former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers.”

Former Connecticut Reps. Nancy L. Johnson, Toby Moffett and Barbara Kennelly also became lobbyists once they left politics.

In today’s Connecticut congressional delegation, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, first elected in 1991 and now the longest-serving Connecticut lawmaker in Washington, has had the most staffers walk through the revolving door — 18 of them.

DeLauro’s former staffers have left her employ to work for a number of lobbying firms, including Foley Hoag LLP, which represents a wide variety of clients, including many in the health care, energy and technology industries, and Linchpin Strategies, LLC, a consulting company for salesmen. They also work for associations that lobby Congress, including the National Association for Community Health Centers, the National Real Estate Investment Association and the National Turkey Federation.

DeLauro said it’s normal for former staffers to go to lobby shops and associations.

“People go where the jobs are,” she said. “To jobs where they can use their skills.”

Sloan agrees.

“Not everybody can stay on the Hill forever,” she said. “And it’s not unusual to get a job in an area that you worked on and to use your contacts to gain access.”

For instance, John Hollay, who worked on dairy issues in the office of Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is now the chief lobbyist for the National Milk Producers Federation, the trade association for the dairy industry.

Sloan said the revolving door “has kicked up in the last decade” and is a lot more prevalent in Washington today than a decade ago.

“It’s a changing culture,” she said.

Then there are what the Center for Responsive Politics calls “reverse revolvers,” such as  Creighton. They are lobbyists who sought jobs on Capitol Hill, at least for a while, usually to burnish credentials and establish important relationships.

These former lobbyists often hold the most important jobs in a congressional office, including that of chief of staff. The center said this phenomenon is growing. It determined there were 60 “reverse revolvers” in top jobs in the 111th Congress (2009 to 2010). That number jumped to 122 in the 112th Congress (2011 to 2012).

“Reverse revolvers” working for the Connecticut congressional delegation include Beverly Pheto, who left lobbying giant Polsinelli P.C., to become DeLauro’s chief of staff.

Jason Gross, the chief of staff for Courtney, was with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition before working for the 2nd District representative. The coalition is a group of businesses and nonprofits that try to influence U.S. defense and foreign policy.

Anthony Baker, Rep. Elizabeth Esty’s chief of staff, lobbied for the International Association of Fire Chiefs before joining the 5th District lawmaker’s office.

Jason Cole, who was the chief of staff for Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, until last August, worked for the financial services firm UBS Americas before taking a job on Capitol Hill. Himes’s deputy chief of staff, Rachel Kelly, formerly worked for Blank Rome Government Relations LLC.

And Laurie Rubiner, Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s chief of staff, is a former lobbyist for Planned Parenthood.

“People leave public service to do other jobs,” Blumenthal said. But, he said, “There should be very tight and longtime restrictions on how [lawmakers and staffers] use their [Capitol Hill] experience.”

Over the year, Congress has taken steps to try to curb abuses.

After the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, federal ethics rules were tightened in 2007 to prohibit lobbying of former colleagues and bosses by former administration officials, former lawmakers and former Capitol Hill staffers for a year after they leave the government. Yet since the rules were revised, more than 1,650 congressional aides have registered to lobby within a year of leaving Capitol Hill, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from LegiStorm.

The reason: These former staffers are using loopholes, especially in the House of Representatives, where staffers have more leeway than in the Senate.

House aides can avoid the one-year “cooling-off” period if their Capitol Hill salaries were below a certain cap, which was $130,500 last year.

Sloan also cites the “Tom Daschle” exception, named after the former Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota who avoids registering as a lobbyist by using a provision that exempts people who don’t spend more than 20 percent of their time on that activity.

Miles Rapoport, head of Common Cause

Miles Rapoport, head of Common Cause

Miles Rapoport, the new president of Common Cause and former Connecticut secretary of the state, said the revolving door has created a “vicious circle.”

“The government is disdained so people want to leave, and there’s quite a gap between what you earn as a congressional staffer and what you can earn on K Street or Wall Street,” Rapoport said. “That [activity] contributes to the cynicism and disdain and contempt that people feel for Congress.”

Rapoport said the solution is to “stop demonizing  government and the people who work for it” and strengthen lobbying prohibitions — including an extension of the “cooling off” period to two years, something Congress has rejected.

“We shouldn’t encourage people to immediately cash in on the connections they have,” Rapoport said.

Interactive graphic by data editor Alvin Chang.

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