June 18, 2012

Democrat Congressman Mike Ross Announces Post-Retirement Lobby Job; Did It Affect His Legislative Record?

Congressman Mike Ross, current representative for the state of Arkansas, future lobbyist for Southwestern Power Pool
Congressman Mike Ross, current representative for the state of Arkansas, future lobbyist for Southwestern Power Pool

Last year, Arkansas Representative Mike Ross was the Democratic co-sponsor of an amendment to delay the US Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the Cross-State Air Pollution rule, which would curb the amount of soot and other dangerous chemicals released by industry. Regulators estimate that the rule could prevent 520 premature deaths in Arkansas every year, particularly because the state borders regions in Texas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere that are home to industries producing high levels of air pollutants.

And just a month ago, Ross, who is retiring from Congress after this term, announced that he will be joining one of the groups leading the charge to lobby against the EPA rule. Starting next year, Ross will be the “Senior Vice President for Government Affairs” at Southwestern Power Pool, a nonprofit that represents several coal-powered utility companies.

Southwestern Power Pool has filed multiple comments and letters demanding that the EPA delay and relax its Cross-State Air Pollution rule.

In one sense, Ross should be applauded for his transparency in revealing his future job to the public. Ordinarily, such job agreements must only be disclosed to the House Ethics Committee. But the arrangement with Southwestern Power Pool raises the possibility that Ross’  legislative activity could have been unduly influenced by the prospect of a high-paying job.

In a statement to Republic Report, Ross’ spokesman, Dustin Smith, explained that Ross began his job negotiations months after his EPA rule-delaying legislation passed the House. He also said that Ross will now recuse himself on any issues that provide targeted benefits to his future employer, and that he will not discuss policy with the group either:

Negotiations between Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and Congressman Ross began on May 4, 2012. He properly filed all forms required by the House Ethics Committee. And while the Ethics Committee does not make the form available to the public, in an effort to be transparent, Congressman Ross went above and beyond in announcing who he would be working for when his term in Congress ends.

Congressman Ross will recuse on any issue that provides a benefit targeted to SPP, as required by the Ethics Committee. Additionally, as part of the agreement, he and SPP will not discuss legislation or issues for the remainder of his term in Congress and they will not ask for or receive any favors.

Smith, however, said he could not reveal how much Ross will be paid by his future employer.

A review of salary figures conducted by Republic Report, released earlier this year, showed that lawmakers who become lobbyist see their paychecks rise over 1,400%. Some, like Billy Tauzin, have scored lobbying gigs paid as high as $11 million a year.

Although Ethics rules attempt to prevent any quid-pro-quo bribery, there have been virtually no enforcement actions on congressmen moving through the revolving door. And there are literally dozens of examples of lawmakers working to benefit individual companies or industries, before retiring and becoming high paid employees of or lobbyists for those same industries. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) blocked crucial aspects of financial reform legislation before becoming an employee of Goldman Sachs. Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) earmarked tens of thousands of dollars to groups that now retain him as a lobbyist.