March 12, 2012

Bribery By Another Name: While Still In Office, Congessman Heath Shuler (D-NC) Already Negotiating With K Street To Become A Lobbyist

Bribery By Another Name: While Still In Office, Congessman Heath Shuler (D-NC) Already Negotiating With K Street To Become A Lobbyist
Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC)

One way corporations and special interests rule Washington is by promising lucrative salaries to lawmakers and their staff members. Once a public official makes a deal to go to work for a lobbying firm or corporation after leaving office, often with the promise of a million dollars or more in salary, he or she becomes loyal to the future employer. Thus, a special interest can essentially buy out the lawmaker, gaining not only access but the ability to influence votes and other policymaking power while the lawmaker is still in office.

With dozens of current members of Congress up for retirement this year, a good number of lawmakers are already busy negotiating for jobs on K Street.

Congressman Heath Shuler (D-NC) is a prime example. Shuler, a leader of the Blue Dog caucus of big business-friendly Democrats, announced that this term will be his last a few short months ago. As Politico notes, he is already talking to lobbying firms that may want to hire him as an influence peddler:

Shuler, for one, isn’t wasting any time assessing his options. The conservative North Carolina Democrat has met with several groups with Washington offices in an effort to see if he might be a good fit. […]

One of the organizations taking a serious look at Shuler is The Majority Group, a lobby shop founded by former Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), according to sources. Rob Ellsworth, a former legislative assistant of Shuler’s, is a co-founder of the boutique lobbying firm.

The Majority Group, one of the lobbying firms courting Shuler, currently represents the beef industry, a foreclosure servicing company called FCI Lender Services, as well as bank holding companies with business in health, life, and real estate insurance.

And while Shuler meets with lobbying firms openly interested in hiring him, the congressman continues to play a pivotal role in shaping the laws we all live under. Shuler and Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) recently formed a bipartisan caucus to secretly draft a grand bargain for dealing with the deficit later this year, according to Erik Wassen of The Hill.

Not all retiring lawmakers are planning to sell out. Congressman Wally Herger, a California Republican who announced his last term, plans to go back to farming, while recently defeated Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has already said he won’t be a lobbyist. However, lawmakers like Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Congressman Dan Boren (D-OK), and many others are possible recruits for K Street.

While some call this phenomenon the “revolving door,” the line between casual bribery and simply changing careers is incredibly fuzzy. How do we know that lawmakers like Shuler aren’t influenced by the lobbying firms already promising them cash?