Ex-Lawmakers' Perks Have Other Lobbyists a Bit Peeved

It's about the relationships, not the perks, says former senator John Breaux.
It's about the relationships, not the perks, says former senator John Breaux. (By Ken Cedeno -- Bloomberg News)
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Monday, July 25, 2005

There are two kinds of lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

The first are the mere-mortal lobbyists. These are ex-congressional staffers or other hangers-on who make their livings through a combination of guile, expertise and heavy campaign fundraising.

Then there are the former members of Congress -- a higher class of lobbyists. Their privileges and coziness with current lawmakers make them desired by clients and resented by their mere-mortal colleagues.

The spat between the two gets nastier all the time.

Mere-mortal lobbyist Wright H. Andrews Jr., a former aide to a Georgia senator, fondly remembers the old days when lawmakers didn't want to become lobbyists. "Most former members of Congress weren't very good lobbyists," he said. "They were lazy. They didn't work hard. They still thought they were kings."

But now, corporations and trade groups can't sign up enough of them. And worse, Andrews said, they have an unfair advantage: They can go almost anywhere they want on Capitol Hill as if they were still members.

"Why should they have any more of a privilege than I have to go into the House gym or onto the House or Senate floor or to use the congressional parking garage?" he complained. "As a matter of principle, it's wrong."

Oh, nonsense, the former members say. Those benefits are inconsequential and, anyway, ex-lawmakers rarely use them during lobbying. What the mere-mortal lobbyists are really angry about is that clients are hiring former lawmakers more frequently these days, leaving less business for anyone else.

"The lobbying advantage is greater in the minds of the competition than it is in the minds of the former members," said former Republican representative Jack W. Buechner of Missouri, president of the U. S. Association of Former Members of Congress. Any effort to curtail the perks, he said, is "being driven by current lobbyists who aren't former members and who think there's a problem."

At least one senator agrees with the mere-mortals that former lawmakers are getting away with things that they shouldn't. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) has proposed a set of lobbying changes that includes rescinding the Capitol-roving privileges that legislators-turned-lobbyists enjoy.

Feingold's proposal doesn't stand much chance of passing at present. Absent some new lobbying scandal Congress will probably be content to allow things to stay as they are.

The reason is pure self-interest. With each new election, more and more lawmakers retire early to join the lobbying ranks. So why would they throw away a commercial advantage?

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