May 9, 2012

Lugar Loses: Will He Join The Ranks Of Indiana Senators-Turned-Lobbyists?

Lugar Loses: Will He Join The Ranks Of Indiana Senators-Turned-Lobbyists? Last night, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the longest serving GOP member of the U.S. Senate, lost his primary election to Richard Mourdock. Though it’s possible Lugar may mount an independent bid for the general election, many prognosticators have already said that his elected career is probably over. (Although Lugar has been compared to Lisa Murkowski’s predicament in 2010, Mourdock is far less of a fringe candidate than Joe Miller.)

The question now becomes, will Lugar sell out and become an influence peddler? The halls of Congress are now filled with hundreds of lobbyists who were once federal lawmakers. Those who do not become registered lobbyists often skirt the rules by joining public affairs firms or becoming “consultants” to law firms engaged in lobbying. Lawmakers stand to increase their salary by around 1,452% by joining the ranks of K Street, according to an investigation published by Republic Report.

Lugar may be tempted by the sad legacy of other Indiana U.S. Senators. The last four became lobbyists or influence peddlers after leaving office:

Senator Birch Bayh (D) left office in 1981 is now a lobbyist for Venable. As a lobbyist, Bayh twisted the meaning of a law he had drafted while a Senator in order to push efforts for drugmakers to charge high prices, even for anti-AIDS drugs developed by research grants paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

Senator Dan Quayle (R) left office in 1989 to become Vice President. After retiring from public office, Quayle joined the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. Quayle has helped the firm lobby government officials on several high-stakes deals.

Senator Dan Coats (R) left office in 1999 and became a lobbyist for King & Spalding. He made over $600,000 a year representing General Electric, Google, Sprint, and other corporate clients. In 2010, Coats ran again for Senate and won a seat.

Senator Evan Bayh (D) left office in 2011 and joined a number of corporate firms, including a lobbying campaign on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Bayh is now working to help the Chamber, which represents big banks and other large multinational corporations, to effectively rollback environmental reforms, parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and financial regulations. He is also now a partner at the law/lobbying firm McGuireWoods.

The Hill reports that lobbyists are already eyeing Lugar as a top recruit. “Headhunters said Lugar could make more than $1 million per year if he chose to work full-time at a government affairs or lobby firm, and could pull in $250,000 annually in a part-time role, perhaps for as little as one day of work a week,” notes reporter Cameron Joseph.

Lugar is not quite out of office just yet. As we’ve noted, many lawmakers, once they know when they are planning to leave office, will cut deals or pass targeted legislation to benefit a special interests so that the beneficiaries of those deals will in turn pay off the lawmakers as they enter the private sector. For example, Senator Judd Gregg spent much of 2010 blocking derivatives reform; a year later when he retired from office, he joined Goldman Sachs for an undisclosed salary. Congressman Bill Delahunt earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups in Massachusetts; now Delahunt is a lobbyist who counts those same earmark recipients as clients. It’s a dynamic so severe we call it Backdoor Bribery.

Hopefully Lugar will reverse the Indiana trend. He should pursue a more honorable and socially productive career than lobbying for narrow special interests.